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Zags open WCC against short-handed Pepperdine

Pepperdine head coach Marty Wilson is attempting to direct his team through a rough stretch. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)
Pepperdine head coach Marty Wilson is attempting to direct his team through a rough stretch. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

It looked like one of the better matchups on the WCC schedule. Two months ago.

Injuries have left Pepperdine without two key starters for the conference opener against No. 7 Gonzaga on Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

The Waves were picked fourth in the coaches’ preseason poll, the same spot they finished the last two seasons. They were anticipating four seniors alongside forward Kameron Edwards, who was selected to the conference All-Freshmen team last year, in the starting lineup.

Senior point guard Amadi Udenyi, 11th on the school’s all-time assists list, went down with a torn Achilles tendon versus Portland State on Nov. 27. Edwards, who averaged 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds last season, is sidelined with a broken jaw suffered in a preseason scrimmage.

“Night and day we’re different,” sixth-year coach Marty Wilson said.

Wilson called Udenyi an experienced ball-handler, decision-maker and the team’s top perimeter defender. Edwards is one of the team’s best athletes and a strong defender.

“We had Amadi (for six games) and we were playing well and felt comfortable, and we were looking forward to having Kam back,” Wilson said. “Losing them was tough but we talk about it all the time, just dealing with adversity, learning from it and having some of these young guys step in and gain valuable playing time.”

The Waves (4-8) have lost seven straight, including the last four on the road. Gonzaga has won 31 straight in the series with Pepperdine’s last victory coming in 2002.

The Zags are 12-0 for the first time in program history and WCC favorites again.

“We can be proud of our beginning of the season,” GU freshman forward Killian Tillie said, “but we need to continue on the same way.”

Pepperdine leans on three seniors. Wing Lamond Murray Jr. has six games with at least 21 points. Point guard Jeremy Major is on track to become the program’s all-time assists leader. He’s already in the top 10 in steals and 3-pointers.

Forward Chris Reyes, who began his career as a redshirt at Saint Mary’s before transferring to Utah, averages 14.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and leads the conference with 1.9 blocks per game. The graduate transfer makes 62 percent of his shots.

“Taking care of the ball has been our Achilles’ heel,” Wilson said. “We’ve shot the ball pretty well, defended fairly well, but we have to take care of the ball. Unforced turnovers are one thing we can control.”

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