Pepperdine’s Lorenzo Romar is prepared to lead his team to the next level and seeks an NCAA Tournament invitation come March. The Waves have a massive opportunity to boost their resume this Sunday against San Diego State.
Lorenzo Romar and Pepperdine Expect to Take the Next Step
The Pepperdine players sat in the locker room after their thrilling three-overtime 107-98 loss to UCLA on Nov. 27. The mood was somber, defeat and dejection overwhelmed the young minds of the talented student-athletes. Their breaths were heavy; sweat soaked their jerseys and dripped from their sagging chins. They fought for 55 minutes only to come up short and afterward lurched over trying to grasp a hint of acceptance.
Lorenzo Romar knew his players took the loss hard; they were down. The coach told his team they had to be prepared to take the next step to win those games.
He said of the defeat, “It’s not a moral victory anymore. At the end of the day, it doesn’t have an asterisk, saying look at how good they played, it just says we lost.”
Expectations are high at Pepperdine this season, and the matchup against UCLA was a key early-season battle. Forcing three-overtimes against a storied program is respectable, but a tight game also proves that there were chances to earn a significant win.
“Just a play here or a play there literally made the difference,” Romar said of the outcome. “At this point in our program, those are games we look forward to winning. We’re not in the rebuilding stage anymore.”
San Diego State Awaits
The Waves quickly had to regroup and regain their focus and did so against NAIA affiliate St. Katherine. The lopsided score was meaningless, however. Coach Romar was more impressed with his team’s ability to collect themselves and get back to work. Their reward: Mountain West favorite San Diego State on Sunday.
The Aztecs reached out to Pepperdine as an alternative opponent due to COVID-19-induced cancellations on their schedule. Before the season abruptly ended, SDSU was 30-2 last year and destined for a high-seed in the NCAA Tournament. On Nov. 25, they handled UCLA 73-58, the same Bruin squad that squeaked by the Waves.
Without complete alteration to their preparation, both the Aztecs and Pepperdine were able to scout each other already this season. Both their matchups against UCLA were in the same SDSU’s gym. Viejas Arena will again welcome the Waves on Sunday. It will be a difficult task, but Pepperdine knows they’ve already rebounded and expect to perform at a high level.
Romar said, “We’re on the right track, and that’s how our team looks at it.”
This unexpected schedule change has presented a huge opportunity for the Waves. It’s not a case of redemption, but rather progression, and that resonates through the entire WCC. The conference is strong, and with Gonzaga and BYU as presumed locks for the NCAA Tournament, and perpetual bubble team St. Mary’s off to a good start, the WCC could possibly have four representatives in the big dance.
“There is quality basketball being played, and oftentimes you see it in the non-conference schedule,” Romar said of the WCC. “I do believe the WCC has become a multiple-bid conference.”
The last time the Waves appeared in the NCAA Tournament was as an at-large bid in 2002 as a 10-seed. They lost to Wake Forest 83-74 in the first round.
Pepperdine is picked to finish 4th in the preseason WCC poll. The league is predicated to land two or three spots in the NCAA Tournament, but the possibility of a fourth bid isn’t an unreasonable thought. The Waves could get a nod if they compete at the level they believe they can, or at least know they must.
Romar remains confident but modest and realistic of his team’s expectations. “We expect and want to take the next step. It all comes back to doing the right things consistently so that we can turn the corner as a program. Potential means you haven’t done anything. I can’t live in that world, I got to live in reality, and you got to step up and get it done.”
Pepperdine has a chance to get it done on Sunday and expect to be victorious.
Lorenzo Romar returned in 2018 for his second stint as Pepperdine’s head coach. He was at the helm of the Waves from 1996-99, making one NIT appearance. Though updates in technology, building maintenance, and student colloquialism, and fashion trends now grace the campus, there was still a sense of nostalgia that helped ease his transition back.
“A lot of similarities, including some of the people that work there,” Romar said of the atmosphere on campus. “There’s a lot of familiarity.”
The coach is comfortable and the players are confident and mentally resilient. One thing that has changed is the Pepperdine men’s basketball program’s progression. Now it’s time to take an even larger step forward.
Pepperdine visits SDSU on Dec. 6 at 5:30pm EST.