>Pepperdine vs. Gonzaga

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I currently live in Ventura, California but my heart belongs to the Pacific Northwest. I am a humongous college basketball fan and despite being a Washington Huskies first and foremost, I also love the Gonzaga Bulldogs. One of the best things about living down here as opposed to Seattle is that I have had more of a chance to see the Zags play. The latest came this weekend when the Zags traveled to Pepperdine, the closest Division I school to my home.

Going to Pepperdine is always a treat, even if you hate Malibu as much as I do. It is arguably the most beautiful setting for a college anywhere in the country. Getting to the campus is a treat in itself because you have your choice of the PCH down the coast or you can cut through the mountains from the 101. Either way, the views are incredible and worth the drive with or without a college basketball game to attend.

Once you get to campus and to Firestone Fieldhouse, it’s almost hard to go indoors, especially on a beautiful February day like Saturday was. Look at that view from just outside, the doors of Firestone. Now imagine a cool sea breeze blowing in…

Then turn around and look at this, the entrance to Firestone Fieldhouse. And you wanted to go to a basketball game?

The first thing that you notice when you walk into Firestone is just how small this arena (gymnasium) is. When you stand courtside, it feels small, but you can’t get the full claustrophobic feeling unless you are unlucky enough to have to climb the stairs to the second sets of seats…

There you are treated with a low ceiling, a ton of stuff hanging from the ceiling, and almost absolute darkness. It’s like watching a basketball game from the back of a cave. The scoreboard on the far side is just barely visible and if I had to go up to the top, two more rows up, I wouldn’t be able to see the baskets.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about small, cozy gyms. They can be used to the advantage of most college basketball teams. However, Pepperdine is so lukewarm about basketball that it doesn’t make much of a difference. The student section was very quiet, even when the game was close, and from what I can tell they don’t have any traditions to speak of. I find it strange that a small, close knit school whose main sport is basketball and has been relatively successful over the years doesn’t have any student traditions, unique cheers or a pep band (last year they had this strange old guy, classic rock band playing at games). It surprises me that they have even bothered with cheerleaders and a mascot (this is the first time I’ve seen him). They do have a fight song, but it’s really weird and sounds like circus music and nobody seems to care one bit about it.

Luckily, I’m a Zags fan and they did not disappoint. Pepperdine played out of their minds in the first half and kept the score close but the Zags pummeled them in the second half behind Josh Heytvelt’s 27 points and 22 rebounds en route to an 82-57 victory. You know it’s bad when the student section doesn’t bother to stand back up after a timeout.

Soon enough it was time to crawl out of my cave and back into the glorious Southern California sunshine. Before heading back up the hill to my car I took another look around and saw this beautiful tree just outside of Firestone’s doors. We might play better basketball up in the Northwest, but you can’t sit under a tree like that and enjoy that view anywhere other than Pepperdine. Personally, I’ll take the basketball, but it’s a tough call.

While walking back to my car I was serenaded by a “GONZAGA SUCKS D**K” from a passing luxury vehicle, to which I gave the big thumbs up to and replied “STAY CLASSY PEPPERDINE, STAY CLASSY!” It’s easy to be seduced by Pepperdine, but then one of the students opens their mouth and you remember why you would prefer basketball over the view any day.

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