Waves Insider: Pepperdine’s first-quarter problem

A lot has gone wrong with the Pepperdine Waves women’s basketball team this season. It won just two games in the West Coast Conference all year, one less than last season.

While there are various ways to dissect what contributes to such a poor record, one number leaps off the stat sheet. The Waves were dead last in first-quarter scoring with just 397 points over 29 games — an average of 13.7 points.

As a comparison, the worst team in the WCC, the Portland Pilots — who had one less conference win than Pepperdine this year — averaged 15.1 points in first quarters over 29 games.

But here’s what baffled me: In fourth quarters, the Waves averaged 18.6 points, which placed second in the conference. So the team is capable of good — at times exceptional — offensive play.

The discrepancy points to what often happens in basketball when a game is already decided by the fourth quarter. The winning team takes its foot off the gas, and the team that’s down on the scoreboard picks up its intensity and starts playing better. But usually, those types of comeback efforts fall short.

Freshman point guard Paige Fecske pointed to that very phenomenon this past weekend after the team’s loss to the LMU Lions when asked about Pepperdine’s scoring during the final frame.

“I think that might have to do with the fact that in a lot of the games we’ve had so far, we’re behind in the fourth quarter,” Fecske said. “I feel like that just gives us more motivation to want to score.”

During the LMU game, the Waves only scored nine points in the first quarter, and were down 17 heading into the second. But in the fourth, Pepperdine dropped 31 points on the Lions. That game exemplified much of the season.

Watching the Waves play offense is both pleasurable and frustrating. They pass, cut and create many open shots for themselves and their teammates, but those shots don’t fall much, and some players tend to pass up open shots or turn the ball over. Pepperdine shot only 38.6 percent this season and averaged upwards of 17 turnovers per game.

The problem stems from the team’s lack of consistency to start games. In some games, Pepperdine shoots poorly. In other games, the team can’t get looks at the basket because of turnovers. The team’s roster mostly consists of freshman and sophomores, which Waves head coach Ryan Weinberger said is the main reason for the up-and-down play, especially to start games. 

“We are still trying to find our voice in the locker room,” Weisenberg said. “Every team always has that emotional leader and with 11 underclassmen this year and four upperclassmen, that voice just has not been as loud as we have liked to get teams pumped up.” 

Two of the players looking to be leaders on the floor were Fecske and freshman guard Erica Ogwumike, Pepperdine’s leading scorer and arguably its best overall player. Both players told me they wish to grow as leaders in the coming years. 

“I definitely think the vocal [leadership] part, especially in this [Division] 1 collegiate level, is something I need to work on and get better at because I think it will bring our team to the next level,” Ogwumike said. 

Fecske thought confidence — or a lack thereof — hindered the Waves and contributed to their slow starts this season. 

“If we came out confident in the first quarter, we wouldn’t miss those shots if we shot with confidence,” Fecske said. “Easy layups, we wouldn’t miss those if we were confident. Even our passes, too. We don’t pass knowing that’s where we want to pass. I think it’s all confidence.”

There’s upside, though. The team is young and will get better over time, and has shown signs that it’s building good basketball habits. Offseason improvement should help the Waves fair much better in the 2016-17 season.

Waves Insider is a monthly column offering an in-depth look at Pepperdine sports. Assistant Editor Alex Vejar covers high school sports, education and anything in between for the Malibu Surfside News. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexVReporting.