Pepperdine Waves men’s basketball player Colbey Ross was focused on one thing after a sophomore season that featured him averaging 19 points and seven assists a game and receiving West Coast Conference first team honors: improving hoops dexterity. 

The point guard spent the offseason in the gym working on his jump shot and practicing how to see what is happening, or should be happening, during gameplay.

“I tried to focus on being a consistent shooter,” he said. “Being able to make the game slow down for me, so reads are easier. So, when the game comes, I’m not shocked when a read is there, or something is not there.”

Mission accomplished. 

At presstime, Ross was averaging 20 points a game for Pepperdine. The junior’s highest scoring game of the season featured 38 points he scored in a November loss to USC. Ross scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half of Pepperdine’s loss to Providence in the Wooden Legacy tournament in December. The scoring barrage was one point shy of tying the legacy’s record for points in a half. Also in December, Ross scored 31 points in a win over Portland State and 27 points in a victory over Northern Arizona. 

Pepperdine head coach Lorenzo Romar isn’t surprised with the success the point guard has had this season.

“We are talking about a guy here with no problem with getting up at 5:30 in the morning everyday working out,” he said. “He spends countless hours working on his craft.” 

Yet, Ross, who is already Pepperdine’s all-time leader in assists and is on pace to be the university’s all-time scoring leader, believes he hasn’t played his finest hoops yet. 

“I know what my best is,” he said. “There are some games where I think I have played really well, but I still don’t think I have played my best. I feel like I am improving every day. I think my team has my back and they are trying to help me through it.” 

The Waves certainly had their lead guard’s back in their 80-69 win over WCC-opponent Portland at Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse on Jan. 25. Ross didn’t have the sweetest of shooting games as he shot four of 12 from the field and scored 12 points, but junior Sklyar Chavez scored 24 points including five three-pointers and senior Kameron Edwards scored 16 points. In fact, each of the seven Pepperdine players who hit the floor scored at least six points and grabbed four rebounds. 

Romar noted that players such as freshman guard Sedrick Altman and sophomores Darryl Polk Jr., another guard, and Victor Ohia Obioha, a center, did a good job of giving the Waves defensive aggressiveness. 

“They did a really good job of providing energy to us, flying around,” he said. “If we can make (that) become a standard, we’d become a much better basketball team.”

Ross said Pepperdine played good defense, particularly in the first half.

“Today, we showed we could guard anyone,” he said.

Pepperdine began to take hold of the contest when Altman scored a tough fast break layup in the first half giving Pepperdine a 20-16 lead. A made triple by sophomore forward Kessler Edwards, Kameron’s younger brother, and a swished foul-line jumper while being fouled (along with the made free throw) by Ross put the Waves ahead by eight points. Chavez connected on consecutive threes to give his team a 41-24 lead at halftime. 

After the break, splashed jumpers, converted layups and good defense gave the home bunch a 60-42 lead, but within minutes a missed Waves dunk and a Portland three cut Pepperdine’s lead to 10 points. That’s about as close as Portland got, however. Three passes around the court amongst the Waves led to Polk drilling a triple to give Pepperdine a 13-point lead. The Waves then steadily increased their distance from Portland on the scoreboard. A three, a jump shot, then a step-back jumper out of the post all by Chavez gave Pepperdine a 75-57 lead. The game’s final minutes included Ross hitting a three, Altman being fouled on an explosive dunk attempt and the Waves holding off Portland to secure the win. 

Chavez’s scoring total for the game was a season high for him and his sixth straight game in double figures. The transfer from Santa Rosa Junior College, who led the state of California in scoring as a sophomore at 27.8 points a game, is a tremendous shooter, said Romar. 

“We were so fortunate to get him,” he said. “We watched him in junior college and thought, ‘If we are fortunate enough to get a guy that shoots the ball like that, we are going to be pretty excited.’”

The coach said having Chavez on the floor opens the defense up for his teammates. 

“Somebody has to stay close to him, so it provides driving opportunities for others,” Romar said. 

One of those players is Ross, who compared Chavez’ jump shot to NBA superstar Klay Thompson’s.

“He has one of the quickest releases I have ever seen,” Ross said. “You can count on him to make three or more threes a game. He is a really good player.”

The win gave Pepperdine an 11-10 overall record and a 4-3 WCC record heading into the game at BYU on Thursday. The victory was the Waves’ fourth in five games after starting 2020 with two straight losses. Along with Portland, Pepperdine has knocked off San Diego, Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara this year after falling to Pacific and Gonzaga. Stuck among the wins is a loss to Saint Mary’s. 

Pepperdine opened the season with a loss to Cal, but then beat UC Irvine, CSUN and Abilene Christian before losing to USC and Sacramento State. The Waves lost games to Arizona, Central Florida and Providence in the Wooden Legacy, before beating Idaho State, Central Arkansas, Portland State and Northern Arizona. The squad closed 2019 with a loss to San Jose State. 

Romar said the Waves have been inconsistent most of the season but played consistently better basketball during their winning stretch. He said the only way for the Waves to improve is practice. 

“We want to do the things we practice and be our best at it,” Romar said. 

He wants the squad to produce the defensive energy they showed against Portland each game. 

“You just keep working at it,” Romar said. “Try to make practice competitive in order to recreate that energy.” 

The Waves play at Loyola Marymount on Feb. 1 and host Santa Clara five days later. The group plays at Pacific on Feb. 8. 

Ross said the key to Pepperdine’s success the reminder of the season is playing tough defense.

“If we can do that for 40 minutes, we can beat any team in the country—it doesn’t matter if they are No. 1 or whoever,” he said. “We can play with them.”

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