Since its infancy at the old Los Angeles campus at the corner of 79th and Vermont Streets, Pepperdine basketball has been characterized by excellence. The Waves have established a proud history of success during its 74 seasons of intercollegiate play, compiling a cumulative overall record of 1,140-974 (.539).
Over the years, the Waves have made 26 postseason appearances (13 in the NCAA Tournament), captured at least a share of 16 conference titles, won three West Coast Conference Tournament titles and sent dozens of players into professional basketball.
Pepperdine fielded its first-ever basketball team during the 1938-39 season. Head coach Wade Ruby’s squad posted an overall record of 16-13, defeating the likes of La Verne, Occidental and Whittier along with a collection of AAU and club teams.
Al Duer assumed the head coaching chores the next year, and he directed the Pepperdine basketball program to tremendous heights. From 1940-48, Duer notched a nine-year record of 176-102 (.633) and six of his teams advanced to postseason play.
In just the fourth season of the program’s existence, Pepperdine went to a national tournament for the first time but lost in its initial game at the 1942 NAIB Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. In 1944, Pepperdine competed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, but lost to Iowa State and Missouri in games played in Kansas City, Mo.
Pepperdine reached the championship game of the 32-team NAIB Tournament in 1945, losing to Loyola-New Orleans by a final score of 49-36 in Kansas City, Mo.
Duer eventually served as the executive director of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics from 1949-75, and was later inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 for his outstanding contributions to the sport.
Robert "Duck" Dowell succeeded Duer as head coach prior to the 1948-49 campaign and served in that capacity for 20 seasons, compiling a career mark of 263-264 (.499). Dowell directed Pepperdine to four consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Association titles from 1950-53, and the Waves advanced to the NAIB Tournament in 1950, 1951 and 1952.
Pepperdine joined the West Coast Conference in 1955-56 and the Waves still battle many long-time rivals from that era, including Loyola Marymount, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and Santa Clara.
Dowell’s 1961-62 ballclub won the WCC regular-season championship for the first time and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history. Led by All-WCC selections Harry Dinnel and Bob Warlick, Pepperdine lost a narrow 69-67 decision to Oregon State before rebounding to defeat Utah State by a final score of 75-71 in games played at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah.
Following Dowell’s retirement, Gary Colson assumed the head coaching duties in the summer of 1968. Colson completed his 11-year coaching tenure at Pepperdine with a record of 153-137 (.528).
In the program’s early years, home games were played at a variety of places besides the venerable Campus Gym. For example, the team played at such historic sports venues as The Great Western Forum and the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Other "home" sites included Culver City Auditorium, El Segundo High School, Morningside High School and the Pan-Pacific Auditorium.
But Pepperdine moved its campus to Malibu in 1972, and the change of location signaled the beginning of better fortunes for the Waves, as the attractive beachside setting helped attract quality recruits.
Junior guard William "Bird" Averitt was the nation’s leading scorer during the 1972-73 season when he averaged 33.9 points a game. The All-American guard set a single-game Pepperdine scoring record on Jan. 6, 1973, when he tallied 57 points against Nevada. Averitt went on to play professional basketball with the Buffalo Braves, Kentucky Colonels, New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs.
Pepperdine basketball moved into its permanent home on Nov. 30, 1973, when the Waves played their first game at the 3,104-seat Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu. Although Pepperdine lost that first game — to Pacific, by a score of 52-50 — the Waves have developed a decided homecourt advantage during the facility’s 39-year history. The Waves have compiled a cumulative record of 351-167 (.678) in games played at Firestone Fieldhouse, and won a school-record 30 consecutive home games from 1984-86.
Paced by the play of All-WCC selections Dennis Johnson, Marcos Leite and Ollie Matson Jr., Pepperdine won the WCC championship in 1976 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1962. The Waves defeated Memphis by the final score of 87-77 in a first-round game at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., before losing to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion by a 70-61 count.
Johnson, a junior college transfer who played at Pepperdine just one season, enjoyed a professional career with the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns and the Seattle SuperSonics. Regarded as one of the game’s all-time great defensive players, Johnson was named the Most Valuable Player at the 1979 NBA Finals. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Waves advanced to the NCAA Tournament again in 1979, slipping past Utah in a first-round contest by a 92-88 margin in overtime before losing to the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion by a final score of 76-71 in what was Colson’s final game as head coach.
Jim Harrick then took over the head coaching assignment and during his nine-year run, Pepperdine teams compiled a cumulative record of 167-97 (.633) and advanced to postseason play six times. His Waves went on to the NCAA Tournament four times (1981, 1982, 1985 and 1986) plus earned berths to the National Invitation Tournament in 1980 and 1988. Pepperdine won or shared the league championship in 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1986.
The Waves earned their lone NCAA Tournament victory under Harrick in 1982, defeating Pittsburgh in a first-round game at Friel Court in Pullman, Wash., by a final score of 99-88. Pepperdine was beaten in the second round by Oregon State, as the Beavers controlled the tempo of the game and posted a 70-51 victory.
In what may be the most memorable NCAA Tournament game in Pepperdine history, the Waves lost a heartbreaking first-round decision in 1983 to North Carolina State at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore., by a final score of 69-67 in double overtime. Pepperdine led the Wolfpack by six points with a little more than one minute to play in regulation, but missed free throws cost the Waves, and North Carolina State began its dream run to the national championship.
Pepperdine participated in the first-ever preseason NIT in 1985, and the Waves lost a hard-fought 67-61 decision to Kansas at McNichols Arena in Denver. Led by two-time WCC Most Valuable Player Dwayne Polee, the Waves cruised to a 25-5 record in 1985-86, which ended with a 69-64 loss to Maryland in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at the Long Beach Arena.
In 1988, Harrick was hired as the head coach at UCLA, and assistant Tom Asbury was elevated to direct the Waves. In six seasons at the helm, Asbury-led Pepperdine teams advanced to postseason play on five occasions and notched a cumulative record of 125-59 (.679) during his first stint as head coach. The Waves competed in the NCAA Tournament in 1991, 1992 and 1994, while the 1989 and 1993 squads advanced to the second round of the NIT.
In 1994, Pepperdine battled a highly touted Michigan team on even terms before falling to the Wolverines by a final score of 78-74 in overtime in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at the Kansas Coliseum in Wichita, Kan.
Under Asbury’s guidance, Pepperdine won regular-season WCC titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993, while the 1991, 1992 and 1994 teams captured the WCC Tournament crown. Pepperdine established a conference record by winning 32 consecutive games against league opponents from 1991-93 (38 straight including conference tournament games).
Swingman Doug Christie attracted dozens of NBA scouts to Firestone Fieldhouse and was a first-round draft pick by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1992. In a 15-year pro career, Christie played for seven NBA teams.
Forward Dana Jones was a four-year starter for Asbury, and he is the only player in Pepperdine history to lead the team in four of the five primary stat categories during the same season, as he averaged 18.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocked shots a game as a senior during the 1993-94 campaign.
After Asbury’s departure there were a few down years, but Lorenzo Romar rebuilt the Pepperdine program in the late 1990s. Romar’s 1997-98 team compiled a 17-10 record and was the second-most improved NCAA Division I program in the country. The Waves advanced to the NIT in 1999 — ending a four-year postseason drought — but lost a 65-61 decision to Colorado at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colo.
Pepperdine entered the new century under the guidance of Jan van Breda Kolff. Utilizing a variety of pressure defenses, the Waves rolled to a 25-9 record in 1999-2000 — matching the modern-era single-season school record for wins. Pepperdine won its first WCC regular-season title since 1993. The Waves emerged as the Cinderella team of the 2000 NCAA Tournament after embarrassing Indiana by a final score of 77-57 at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., but Pepperdine lost a 75-67 second-round decision to Oklahoma State.
Led by standout guard Brandon Armstrong, the Waves compiled a 22-9 record during the 2000-01 season. Pepperdine advanced to the NIT for the sixth time and posted a 72-69 first-round win at Wyoming before losing an 81-78 decision to New Mexico at The Pit in Albuquerque. Armstrong was the No. 23 pick overall by the Houston Rockets, and was subsequently traded to the New Jersey Nets.
Former Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics head coach Paul Westphal was hired in April 2001 to succeed van Breda Kolff, who accepted a position at St. Bonaventure. Pepperdine rolled to a 22-9 record in his first season and tied nationally ranked Gonzaga for the WCC regular-season title. The Waves defeated the likes of Brigham Young, UCLA and USC to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. Pepperdine lost an 83-74 first-round decision to Wake Forest at Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif.
Unfortunately, that would be the only postseason appearance during Westphal’s five-year tenure, and he finished his time as head coach with an overall record of 76-72 (.514).
After two seasons with Vance Walberg at the helm, Asbury returned to Malibu prior to the 2008-09 season in order to bring some order to the program’s rocky recent history. He spent three seasons helping restore Pepperdine’s foundation before handing the reins over to Marty Wilson at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season.