The Pepperdine Waves women’s basketball team might sprinkle in some fun in the sun before their season tips off against the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine women’s basketball team.
After all, the college hoops team will be in Hawaii, so during a late-October interview, Waves head coach Delisha Milton-Jones mused about taking the team to a luau or at least a walk on a scenic beach.
“[We plan to] do something fun so they can say they had an experience and get all the excitement out,” she said. Because afterwards, Milton-Jones, a two-time WNBA champion and the owner of a pair of Olympic gold medals for hoops, said the focus will squarely be on the Nov. 7 matchup against Hawaii.
“We want to set the tone early, as in our identity,” the second-year head coach said. “How do we want people to view us? When they scout us, how do we want them to describe us? Will they describe us as being soft and passive or aggressive and intense?”
Milton-Jones said the Waves spent the offseason working toward it being the latter.
“Every drill we do has a level of intensity to it,” she said. “We want [the players] to have a good amount of aggressive freedom on the court.”
Pepperdine’s 2018-19 campaign follows a season in which the squad posted a 10-20 record. Before that, the Waves had failed to win a double-digit number of games in five straight seasons. Pepperdine had a 15-15 record at the close of the 2011-12 year. The team finished 19-12 the season before.
“All the man hours we put into that have come to fruition at this point,” Milton-Jones said. “Putting them in position to be successful is, simply ... get the ball, find the open player. Trust the system. With the timing and tempo required—that opens the game up.”
The coach said Waves having a roster full of healthy players aside from two freshman—twins Jayla Ruffus-Milner and Jayda Ruffus-Milner—is a blessing.
“The mission is to go to Hawaii full force, with our complete arsenal with players at my disposal,” Milton-Jones said. “We have a year under our belts now—with the returners with me being their leader—and we brought in newcomers. Everyone is in a good place mentally and physically.”
Pepperdine’s top returning player is senior forward Yasmine Robinson-Bacote. The forward averaged 18 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season and was an All-West Coast Conference first team selection for the second consecutive season. The New Jersey native was named to the Preseason All-West Coast Conference team last month.
Another key returner is senior guard Paige Fecske. The fourth-year player averaged 11 points each contest the 2017-18 season and led the Waves with 49 three-point shots. There is also sophomore guard Rose Pflug, who scored in double figures nine times in her freshman year, and sophomore forward Monique Andriuolo, who had a team-leading 18 blocks last season.
Guards Barbara Sitanggan, a junior; senior Keyari Sleezer; sophomore Mia Satie; and junior center Megan House are the other returning players.
Along with the twins, the new Waves include freshman guard Malia Bambrick, freshman forward Skye Lindsay, and transfers—Ashleen Quirke, a sophomore forward, and Deezha Battle, a junior guard.
Milton-Jones said she wants the returning players to “lead the charge” and for the first-year Waves to not be passive when in the game.
“I want everyone to have a vested interest in the program and let their best show,” she said.
Pepperdine’s second game, on Nov. 16, is at home against UC Irvine. The team will face Sacramento State and Cal Poly in the Nov. 23-24 SLO Share Holiday Beach Classic in San Luis Obispo. The Waves’ last game of the month is on Nov. 27 at Colorado.
At press time, Milton-Jones said she was still working on who the squad’s starters would be and what the playing-time rotation would look like.
“The thing I’m trying to balance out now is, what type of start do we want to have?” she said. “Do we want offensive power, or do we want defensive tenacity? If we can find a good mix, I would love that too.”
The coach said her team is excited about the season.
“When that first ball is tipped up, that will let me know where we are and if I’m pleased with where we are or if I need to scrap it and try something new,” Milton-Jones said. “The first game will tell me a lot.”