The USD Toreros Men’s basketball team hosted the 14th ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs on their Senior Night at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, attempting to beat the Zags for the first time in their last eight meetings. Torero’s forward, Cameron Neubauer, was the lone senior on the USD team this season.
The red-hot Zags came into the contest on a nine-game win streak, sitting at 25-4 (15-1 in the WCC) after cruising over Pepperdine last Saturday. The San Diego Toreros entered the game 15-11 and (8-8 in the WCC) fresh off a formidable 75-62 victory over BYU last Saturday at home. This game was nothing short of spectacular from the tip and their opposite styles and contrasting style of play made this an interesting battle and another potential chance for the hometown Toreros to pull off the upset.
Gonzaga’s dominant offense entered the contest tied for 6th in the country, scoring 80.2 points per game and 40.2 rebounds per contest coming from their monstrous front court. The Toreros three-point shooting and lockdown perimeter defense helped the Toreros to a winning record this season, one of many bright spots in Coach Lamont’s third season since becoming USD’s head coach. The Torero’s defense entered the contest holding opponents to 65 points per game, good for 24th in the country, and number 2 in the country in three point % defense at .286.
Just three weeks ago, when these two squads played in Spokane, it was a dogfight, going down to the very end with Gonzaga managing to narrowly avoid an upset playing on their home court.
The USD student section made sure their appearance was noticed tonight, packing the house and bringing energy to increase the Torero’s upset chances. Former USD football cornerback, Jamal Agnew, was courtside to take in this game, hoping his Toreros might stun the Bulldogs at home.
The Bulldogs’ offense relies on their depth, experience, and the ability to put the ball in the hoop, with nearly six players averaging at least 10 points per game. Forwards’ Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie lead the Zags in the front court, with freshman phenom Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins doing most of the ball handling.
Gonzaga finished the game with six players in double digits for scoring, led by a handful of forwards who had monstrous nights down low. The Bulldogs’ balanced front court attack was too much for USD to overcome as the Bulldogs avoided the upset 77-72, clinching at least a share of the West Coast Conference title heading into the conference playoffs.
The action-packed first half ended with USD shooting 4 of 7 from behind the arc, great ball movement on offense, and stingy defense to keep the Zags off the scoreboard. Isaiah Piniero led the Toreros in the first half and for most of the game, going 6-14 from the field with 14 points on the night. Freshman Forward Yauhen Massalski, the ‘squirrel’, finished the game with 11 points and 7 rebounds. The first half was compelling and ignited the great environment inside Jenny Craig Pavilion. Massalski helped give USD the slight edge going into halftime with some impressive finishes inside as USD took a 37-34 going into halftime.
The Toreros’ defense was great beyond the arc, helping to pressure the Gonzaga guards, but wasn’t as tormenting against the Bulldog forwards. USD led by as much as eight points in the second half as Wright and Piniero were sensational from beyond the arc. Isaiah Wright continued his excellent season with 14 points and six assists as he did a great job sharing the ball and finding open teammates. Japanese Forward Rui Hachimura was the difference down low for Gonzaga, getting to the foul line and making the Toreros pay. The final six minutes of the game was head to head and controlled by the Zags, who connected on their final seven attempts from the free throw line, helping to avoid the upset and advance their win streak to 10 games.
Olin Carter III was spectacular from start to finish for the Toreros, finishing with 21 points(7-13 FG and 5-9 3PT) as he hit some enormous shots in the first and second half, three that tied the game for USD and two that gave San Diego the lead. His leadership and scoring ability carried the Toreros offense and as he was the catalyst. The stifling defense from USD held Gonzaga senior guard, Josh Perkins, to 2-8 from the field and a quiet 10 points, and Silas Melson to six points and 1-3 from the field. USD senior, Corey Neubauer, scored four points in his last game on the court of Jenny Craig Pavilion.
The Gonzaga front court was too much to contain for USD as Killian Tillie led the entire Gonzaga team with 17 points. Rui Hachimura, went 8 for 8 from the line with 16 points off the bench and Corey Kispert had 10 points off the bench.
This tough loss should not be overlooked for USD as Coach Lamont Smith was very positive about the team’s positive performance after they narrowly fell short of pulling off a huge upset. Once this team finds out how to win close games similar to this one, they should be a team to watch in the conference, and a potential dark horse for a championship in a few years. There is plenty to be excited about as the University of San Diego continues to rebuild their basketball program into one of the premier teams in the West Coast Conference.
USD concludes their regular season play on Saturday evening on the road against the University of San Francisco.