Pepperdine pushed to brink, beats Princeton in NCAA Tournament opening round

Photo by Jonathan Bates

With Pepperdine leading late in the third game, David Wieczorek faced a triple block on an out-of-system ball.

The All-American outside attacker instead of trying to power it through the Princeton blockers opted to softly hit the ball over the block and place it into a vacant back corner of the court.

As the ball hit the court for the unconventional point Wieczorek gave a big smile and a quick finger gun motion to his teammates. It was just that good of a NCAA Tournament match for Wieczorek.

Wieczorek finished with a team-high 18 kills on a .317 attack percentage as Pepperdine avoided an upset scare and defeated Princeton 25-23, 19-25, 25-16, 22-25, 15-8 in the NCAA Tournament opening round on Tuesday in Long Beach California.

In the decisive fifth game, Wieczorek led all players with five kills added a block to help Pepperdine advance to play the No. 2 seed Long Beach State in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday.

Wieczorek was one of three Waves to finish with double-digit kills. Outside attacker Kaleb Denmark contributed 13 kills and middle attacker Max Chamberlain had 10 kills on a .562 attack percentage.

Along with his offensive performance, Wieczorek had five blocks and a team-high eight blocks.

Chamberlain led all players with nine blocks and helped the Waves out-block the Tigers 14 to 6.5.

Despite the loss, Princeton outside attacker Kendall Ratter finished with a match-high 24 kills. This was the third-most kills in a NCAA Tournament match during the 25-point rally scoring era.

Pepperdine making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years out-hit Princeton .318 to .209, including hitting a match-best .667 in the fifth game.

The Waves opened the fifth game on a 8-2 run that featured four kills from Wieczorek.

In the fourth game, both Huhman and Ratter had a game-high five kills with Princeton facing elimination to force a decisive fifth game. In addition, setter Joe Kelly had an ace late in the game to extend Princeton’s lead to 24-21 and set-up a game-point.

Pepperdine in the third game rallied from an early three-point deficit and finished the game holding Princeton to a negative-.067 attack percentage.

Princeton in the second game committed one attack error and had a match-best .560 attack percentage as it evened the match. In addition, Ratter and Denmark each led their teams with six kills during the game.

Despite Ratter having game-high seven kills in the opening game, the Waves won the opening game in part to going on a 4-0 run with the score tied at 15-15.

Princeton reached NCAA Tournament opening round after defeating Barton in four games in the play-in match on Thursday. The Tigers were making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998 when they lost to the Waves in the NCAA Tournament semifinals.