Toreros Beat Aztecs 53-48

MATTHEW ROBERSON | SPORTS EDITOR | @mroberson22

On paper, the University of San Diego men’s basketball team looked to be at a staggering disadvantage entering their annual rivalry game against the San Diego State University Aztecs. Coming into Sunday’s city championship, the Toreros ranked 340 out of 351 Division I teams in points per game, and 339th in field goal percentage. This sort of offensive ineptitude seemed to play right into the hands of San Diego State.

The Aztecs had already knocked off the California Golden Bears, who were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of their meeting, and boasted one of the better defenses in the country through the season’s first month. SDSU was 12th in the nation in defensive efficiency and had held opposing teams to a paltry 63.7 points per game, placing 32nd in the nation.

The statistics and the matchups did not look good for the boys in blue, but as longtime ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman always says, that’s why they play the game.

On a beautiful day at Petco Park, the USD basketball team earned one of the better wins in program history, outlasting their crosstown foes and coming away with a 53-48 victory.

The game was part of the Bill Walton Basketball Festival.

During the weeklong festivities, Petco Park’s infield housed a basketball court and featured several high school games.

Walton, a graduate of Helix High in San Diego, called the event a dream come true.

The same could also be said for those involved with USD basketball. Despite a shaky start to the season and a poor showing in the Great Alaska Shootout, the Toreros played an all-around fantastic game.

In the game’s first half, the defense held San Diego State to just 13 points and limited the Aztecs to three field goals on 20 attempts.

Freshman guard Olin Carter III spoke about the effort in the first half which was so effective in stifling the Aztec’s offensive attack.

“The key was just to play team defense,” Carter said. “We helped each other off the ball and made sure they didn’t get any easy layups and anything in the paint.”

SDSU was also ice cold from three point range. In that nightmarish first half, the Aztecs missed all five of their shots from beyond the arc.

San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher was visibly upset with his team’s effort in the first twenty minutes.

He could be seen and heard on the sidelines instructing his guys to play harder, even getting in the face of freshman standout Jeremy Hemsley at one point.

Fisher told the media after the game that he thought his team underperformed and was ultimately punished for it.

“[The game] was a wonderful event for San Diego,” Fisher said. “It was not a wonderful event, in terms of the outcome, for San Diego State. I’m disappointed in [the Aztecs’] energy and effort. University of San Diego took it to us early… Ultimately we got what we deserved.”

In that first half, the Toreros made seven three pointers and grabbed eight offensive rebounds. Heading into the locker room at halftime, USD held a commanding 31-13 lead.

The second half was characterized by SDSU trying to stage a heroic comeback.

It wasn’t to be, as the deficit they created for themselves turned out to be insurmountable.

Junior forward Brett Bailey – who corralled a team-high seven rebounds and played active, energetic defense all afternoon – iced the game with a thunderous dunk in the final seconds.

It was the sort of iconic moment that every signature win has. The slam sent the student section into hysteria and Aztec fans to the exits.

The Toreros’ guards were the key to this momentous victory. Much was made this offseason about the departure of school record-holders Johnny Dee and Chris Anderson, who scored 37 percent of the team’s points last season.

On Sunday at Petco Park, the new backcourt regime filled the Dee-Anderson void more than capably.

Head coach Lamont Smith started Carter, sophomore Marcus Harris, and senior Duda Sanadze together.

That trio not only picked up the slack left by two school legends, but they did something that Dee and Anderson never could: beat San Diego State.

Sanadze led the way with 15 points, canning five three pointers and also swiping five steals. Harris chipped in with nine points and three steals, going 4-4 from the free throw line.

The bouncy kid from San Antonio, TX also showcased his leaping abilities while collecting four rebounds.

Off the bench, freshman Tyler Williams sunk the two biggest shots of the entire game. With the Toreros clinging to a 47-45 lead and just 29 seconds left on the clock, Williams strolled to the foul line for a one-and-one.

He casually drained the first shot before stepping up and converting the second, which was only the sixth made free throw of his promising career.

The crucial free throws were the only shots Williams attempted all game. He finished with two points and two rebounds in just 12 minutes of action.

Carter also had the best game of his young college career, scoring a personal best of 12 points and serving as the key cog in beating SDSU’s fabled full court press.

His head coach was well aware of the fact that the Aztecs often implement this kind of swarming defense.

“I thought we grew up tonight,” Smith said. “We spent a lot of time working on their press. If you know San Diego State basketball, they hang their hat on rebounding the basketball, defending, and their pressure.”

The Toreros can certainly hang their hat on this win. Not only was it an upset over a team from the same city who regularly ranks in the Top 25 and wins games in the NCAA Tournament, but it also gives the squad a vital victory moving forward in the season.

In fact, defeating the Aztecs was good enough for seniors Jito Kok and Duda Sanadze to rank it as their favorite game of all-time.

“I think this is right there at the top,” Kok said. “Ever since we came in here [to USD] we’ve been wanting to win. So to finally get this, I think it ranks for me as the number one win we’ve had.”

Sanadze had similar feelings, especially given the fact that in 2013 he missed a three pointer at the buzzer which would have given his team a win against SDSU.

“Yeah, as well for me, [this game is] number one,” Sanadze said. “Because we’re rivals, it’s the city championship, and we won. So this year is ours.”

Coming off two consecutive wins against the Drexel University Dragons and Bethesda University Flames, the Toreros exited their outdoor game in the Gaslamp Quarter with a third straight triumph.

They will now host three straight games in the Jenny Craig Pavilion. The first of the three will be against the University of Denver Pioneers on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.

Undoubtedly inspired by his guys’ performance at Petco, head coach Lamont Smith is hopeful that his team’s performance will lead to greater fan support.

“We’re very excited that they [the students] could come out,” Smith said. “We challenge them to support us at the Jenny Craig. We need help in the Jenny Craig.”

Well, the big time win against the hated San Diego State Aztecs will certainly help drum up some support.

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