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5th Annual Wooden Classic: Kansas
Beats Pepperdine 62-55--(Dec. 6, 1998)

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This was a great game.  Really.  Everyone we spoke to about it, and most of the people in attendance (well all except Lorenzo Romar and a handful of Pepperdine supporters) believed this game would be a blowout.  Wrong.   This was a game.  And Pepperdine proved that they are for real, even if they didn't win.

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Kansas doesn't have Raef LaFrentz, who was picked No. 3 in the draft by Denver.  They don't have Paul Pierce who was picked no 10 in the draft by Boston.  And they don't have Billy Thomas anymore ether, and he was the most prolific three-point shooter in KU history.  They're not No. 1 or No. 2 in anyone's preseason polls.  But they do return two starters, Ryan Robertson and T.J. Pugh, both seniors, and there are seven other guys who came back from last year.  Including SoCal natives Eric Chenowith, Jelanie Janisse and Ashante Johnson.  Kansas came into the game 4-1.  They're still good. Just not great.  But they were good enough today. They were ranked by many as the No. 7 team in the country coming into the game.   They won't be No. 7 for long with their performance on Saturday. 

Pepperdine, which came into the game at 5-1 and left at 5-2, had a five game winning streak going before losing last Saturday at Cal State Fullerton.   They were picked by more preseason polls than we can remember to finish number one in the WAC. Whether they will or not is anyone's guess, but they proved today that they are certainly for real and almost gave Kansas a real scare.  But we're getting a bit ahead of the story.

Kansas started Nick Bradford (6'-6" Jr. G/F), Eric Chenowith (7'-0" So. C), Kenny Gregory (6'-5" So. G/F), Ryan Robertson (6-5" Sr. PG/SG), and Jeff Boschee (Fr. SG/PG).  Not a bad group, but we were expecting better than what we saw. Pepperdine started David Lalazarian (6'-7" So. F), Kelvin Gibbs (6'-6" So. F), Nick Sheppard (6'-11" Jr. C), Jelani Gardner (6'-6" Sr. PG), and Tommy Prince (6'-5" Sr. SG).  There were a lot of NBA scouts looking on at the action, and if what we saw was any indication of who is likely to get drafted if there's ever an NBA season again, we'd have to say that on balance Jelani impressed, Prince didn't, Boschee is promising, and Ryan Robertson and Kenny Gregory have got a chance.  And of course the Big C will someday be playing in the league, and he did a great job on Satuday.

As for Pepperdine, even though they didn't win, they don't have to worry about more exposure, because they'll be getting Wisconsin next Saturday, and Michigan State looms on Decemeber  21, followed by Rhode Island on December  29, and by then hopefully Tommie Prince will remember what it means to shoot the ball.  Prince went 0-6 from the field, and he passed up more open looks than a hooker at a Shriner's convention.   He must have been sick or something because he doesn't normally play the way we saw him on Saturday.  Tentative, like a deer in the headlights, and almost afraid to shoot.

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"We felt like we were a team that could beat Kansas and we feel like we're a team that could beat Wisconsin and a team that can beat Michigan State," Pepperdine point guard Jelani Gardner said afterwards in the press conference held in the bowels of the Pond (ok, bowels is probably a bit strong, but it's pretty much a maze at that place, and it's easy to get lost looking for the media room).   "We know we have to get better," Gardner concluded.   No kidding.  Jelani should also learn that with 17.9 seconds remaining, getting the ball with a timeout, and Pepperdine only down 55-60, that he better shoot the damn ball when it gets into his hands.  Instead, Gardner seemed to be suffering from the same problem that plagued Prince all day:  He didn't shoot the ball. 

Instead he stood there above the three point line, head down, dribbling up and down, looking for an opening to drive to the basket.  Sheesh.   Hey, somebody tell me why you're going to give the ball to someone who has shot a three pointer and made one all day (he was 0-2 at that point) instead of getting the ball to Al Minahan who was the only Wave all day to hit for three(he went 1-3).   Pepperdine needed a three-pointer, and then another with a steal, but I suppose if you're looking for a two pointer and a foul, then Gardner was the go-to guy.  The only problem was that he didn't go anywhere, and with the seconds ticking off, he finally made his way to the hoop, shooting an off-balance, rushed shot, which missed, and KU came up with the ball.

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Eric Chenowith (l), Ross Varner (middle) and Nick Bradford
(21) at the line
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Kelvin Gibbs (20) of Pepperdine shooting two

By that time though, there were only 1.7 seconds remaining and Minahan was forded to foul Kansas' TJ Pugh, who went to the line and shot two for the final margin of victory.

But it didn't have to end this way.  Too bad it did.   But Pepperdine really doesn't have anyone to blame but themselves, as they shot miserablly in the first half, and had the score been kept by quarters, they would have shot about .187 overall in the first 10 minutes.

Pepperdine's Kelvin Gibbs started the scoring in the game with a nice layup, but then it was all Kansas for a while as Boshchee grabbed a steal and shot a turn around j from 10 feet on the left baseline for two. Kansas was looking sort of tentative, not really knowing what to do with Pepperdines running and gunning style of play, and they really didn't seem to have anyone (or was capable of) penetrating but they don't need to because their outside and perimeter game was working fine. After a traveling call on Pepperdine, Bradford got the ball on the wing and he and Chenowith played back and forth about three times, with very some very good low entry passes while big C posted up, and finally Sheppard backed off just enought for Eric to make the turnaround j.  Very pretty.   This was followedby a shot by Kenny Gregory from the right hand side of the key for three, and suddenly it looked questionable whether this game should have been scheduled at all.

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On the next series of playes, Jelani Gardner took a shot to the eye and sustained a slight cut, but after a short break in the action he was back in being guarded by Boschee, who pretty much stuck to him like flies on . . . well you get the picture.  While Jelani was able to swing the ball, and make some great entry passes himself, Pepperdine was just missing open looks all over the place in the first half, some from point blank range.  Oh, and there was also Tommie Prince missing the first of his 5 three point attempts he missed in the game on 0-5 shooting behind the arc. The first half did see Gardner hit 3-5 from the field, mostly on drives into the lane, and David Lalazarian and Kelvin Gibbs did manage to hit from inside as well, with both of them going 2 for 4 from the field. When Al Minahan hit his big three, it brought Pepperdine to within two of Kansas, and at that point, the crowd, and perhaps Roy Williams began to believe there was realy a game here.

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Minahan is one tough player,  and he was diving, hustling and playing very well, and he managed one of the best steals off Tony Robertson we've seen in while. And Pepperdine did stay in this game with their steals in the first half, forcing 7, and 11 total turnovers, as compared to the Kansas defensive effort, which only managed to force 7 turnovers, all of them steals. 

But Kansas wasn't all silent on the scoring front, and they led by one point, 26-25 at the half.  Eric Chenowith was 3-5 from the field, and he had 3 rebounds, leading Kansas in outrebounding the Waves 14-12, and Kenny Gregory led on some great shooting, going 3 for 6 from the field and 1-2 from three point range. 

But after the break it was all LaLa and Jelani, as David drove and Jelani pulled up and with 14:54, the waves led 36-34.  But Boschee again started to heat up and hit for three. On the next time down the court, Earl Lester, who was bothered by knee trouble and wasn't expected to play (he's having surgery next week)   rebounded, gave it to Boschee who was so happy with himself that he threw the ball away, which got him yanked by Roy.

So, with 10:51 to play, Roy puts in Big T.J. Pugh, who works the paint, spins, shoots and in genteral provides a nice complement to Chenowith, and on most teams he'd be a center, so Lorenzo counters by subbing in Gibbs and Shepard together, which works well, and then Roy immediately counters by bringing back Lester Earl for Pugh, and this time Lorenzo doesn't blink.  He should have, because at that point Sheppard commited a pretty bonehead foul, which  sent Bradford to the line for two, and wth about another minute gone (9:42), Bradford extended the KU lead to 41-45

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David Lalazarian (6'-7" FSo. F) is guarded by KU's Ryan Robertson
(6'-5" Sr. G)

After the free-throw, Gardner brings the ball down and dishes to Fomby who throws it into the middle but Sheppard can't hang onto it.   Sheppard has decent mobility, but his best attribute is not his hands, it's his size,   and Pepperdine turns it over. On the way down, Bradford is fouled shooting, sinks the free-throws, and then Gregory makes one, is fouled and misses the the free throw, which is answered by Kelvin Gibbs on a very nice leaping put-back in a huge crowd.   Gibbs is very strong, very athletic and really provides the response for Pepperdine to Lester Earl.  So with yet another minute gone, the score is now 43-47 KU.  Next time down, Chenowith loses the handle and Pepperdine gets the turnover. 

After the turnover, Pepperdine goes to the half-court set, and at that point, was  moving the ball, and men without the ball, better than ever.   But as they try to penetrate, Chenowith picks up his fourth personal with 8:18 left to play sending Sheppard to the line for the 1 and 1;  Sheppard misses the first, but Gibbs gets the tip in a crowd and scores, and it's back to a two point game 45-47. 

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Chenowith makes his homecoming, and his 16th career start

But then it was all Kansas, as Pugh is fouled, and shoots two, makes the first and misses the second.  Kansas gets the ball back and Earl scores a layup from the left baseline with an assist from Bradford.  On the next series, Pepperdine turns it over yet again (one of only 5 in the second half), and Earl scores again, this time with an assist from Boschee.

At 5:47, Pepperdine calls a timeout, and the score is 47-54 and it looks like this will be the one that got away.  That is until 1:59, when Pepperdine cut the lead to only three on several consecutive baskets.   First, Sheppard went to the line again, making one of two.  Then Lalazarian shot two more from the line and made both to bring the score to 50-56.  Gibbls was then fouled, and went to the line, made the first of two, and the score was 51-56. Robertson then fouled Gibbs again and he made them both and suddenly it was only a three point game 53-56.   Ah, had it only gone on that way.

But it didn't. On the next play down the floor,   Chenowith makes a spectacular turn around 15' jumper from the left baseline, and he puts KU up by five again.  53-58.  At that point, Williams pulls him out in favor of a shorter and faster lineup with Pugh and Earl Lester.  Prince again gets the ball, shoots and misses and then there's a scramble for the ball, but Pepperdine comes up with it, but ultimately turns it over and Prince commits his fourth personal sending Bradford to the line, who makes one of two and the score is now 53-59.  KU comes up with it after the missed shot, but Ryan Roberston turns the ball over and Pepperdine is driving, with Gardner taking it the length of the floor. Gardner commits what any blind man could see was a huge travel, taking at least four steps, but the official lets it go, and he makes the shot and is fouled in the process, so he goes to the line and with 19.6, it's now 55-59.  But before he can take the shot, Roy Williams  calls a timeout, and when everyone reassembles on the line, Gardner misses the shot and is forced to foul Bradford, who goes to the line to shoot two.  Bradford misses the first, makes the second and with 17.9 its now 55-60, KU. Immediately after the freethrow, KU calls a 20 second timeout (we still can't figure that one out, maybe Lorenzo was out of timeouts, but if you're Kansas, and leading by five, why give Pepperdine a chance to regroup?). 

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Jelani Gardner at the line
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Lalazarian, Gardner & Sheppard watch in the second half

After the timeout, Gardner gets the ball inbounded to him, and as we noted earlier, there were 17.9 seconds to play, and he used about 16 of them standing at the top of the arc, dribbling and jab stepping.  Oh well.  He drove, missed, no call, and KU recovered.  Pepperdine was forced to foul and Minahan committed the 15th team foul by sending Pugh to the line, and the game was really over as the big man made them both.

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Chenowith protects the paint, while Boschee guards
Sheppard

The final figures were really nothing to write home about for either team.  KU shot .511 overall, .429 (not bad) from three point range, and .542 from the line (13-24). The high scorer was Kenny Gregory with 13, followed by Ryan Robertson with 12, and Eric Chenowith with 10.  Nick Bradford had 8, and TJ Pugh had 7; Lester Earl had four and Jeff Boschee had 8.  Boschee proved he was the guy to sign, as he went 3-6 from the field and 2 for 3 from behind the arc.

Pepperdine shot only .400 in the first half, and if you thought that was bad, how about .345 in the second (10-29) for .370 overall shooting from the field on 20 for 64 shooting. Pretty dismal. And their three point shooting was just atrocious.  How about  only shooting 7 percent.  That's right. Seven percent (.071) in the game n 1 for 14 from behind the arc.  And their free-throw shooting wasn't much better either, as pepperdine made jsut 14 of 25 (.560 overall).   The high scorer wa Kelvin Gibbs with 15 on 5 for 9 shooting overall and 5 for 6 from the line. David Lalazarian had 10 on 4-9 and 0-2 from the arc, but he was 2-3 from the line.  Jelani Gardner actually had a great game all things considered, and he was the game's high scorer with 16, and he shot 7-13 and 2-5 from the line; he was 0-2 from three point range.  Fomby had 7, Minahan had 3, and Marc McDowell and Nick Sheppard each had two.  But in the rebounding department, Peppardine  was pretty good, and Sheppard had 8 overall while Gibbs had 7.  And Sheppard also had a team high 4 steals, which is pretty amazing considering that the guy is 6'-11".    Another key statistic that says a lot about why Pepperdine lost was their assist column:  Only 6 for the who game.  Gardner and Prince each had two, but that's not very good, and they're going to have to be less selfish with the ball, or insure that their teammates get better looks.  And the rest of the squad is going to have to finish.

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Pepperdine learned some things from this game.  Things like the fact that Tommie Prince needs to shoot the ball.  Like the fact that Gardner needs to communicate more and be aware of his surroundings.  And like the fact that Pepperdine needs to learn what to do in a close game in the closing seconds.  This wasn't Long Beach State after all.  It was Kansas, Dorothy.

The Swish Award
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