Excitement, hype, and feelings of emotion surrounded the undefeated Toreros Men’s basketball team last night as they battled the SDSU Aztecs for the annual City Basketball Championship, taking place at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. USD was intent on beating SDSU for the first time since 2015, when they knocked off the Aztecs on a neutral court at Petco Park, winning 53-48.
USD entered the City Championship at 5-0, coming off a huge road win against Grand Canyon, putting the Toreros at their best start since the 2013-2014 season. Coach Lamont Smith’s squad is vastly improved this season and hungry to show other teams what they can do in the WCC. The Toreros have relied on strong three-point shooting and defense in their fast start, something that Coach Smith has preached to the guys on this team.
The Jenny Craig Pavilion was filled with buzz and chants coming from the USD bull pit (The University of San Diego student section), and fans supporting both schools making this an interesting matchup. Missed shots and turnovers were a frequent sight for USD as they looked flatfooted in the team’s first loss of the season. They came out with energy, but were unable to follow the details they needed to execute if they wanted a chance to win. The Aztecs, without Trey Kell and Max Montana due to injuries, were led by their length, athleticism, and defense that shut down the Toreros offense. They shot a respectable 47 percent from the field and used their size to upend the Toreros by a final score of 66-57. USD finished the night shooting 37.7 percent from the field, and only 23.3 percent from behind the arc. The Aztecs were only slightly better from three-point land, shooting 27 percent.
The first half was a sloppy basketball game amidst lots of up and down action, and missed shots for the home team wearing blue and black. The Toreros had a defense-first mindset and knew they needed to hit their open shots to win this game. Aztecs guard and Oceanside Native, Devon Watson, was excellent tonight for SDSU, carrying them in the first half alongside hitting big shots to make up for the absence of Trey Kell. He was nothing short of fantastic against the Toreros, wrapping up the night with 26 points and five steals, as he may have been the best player on the hardwood.
NBA prospect Malik Pope brought his size and athleticism, helping to shut down the Toreros inside while swatting three shots during the game. USD’s ice cold shooting in the first half ended in a small run that switched the momentum back to their side, going into halftime down by a score of 30-22. The only positive for the Toreros in the first half was their two turnovers compared to the Aztecs’ seven.
Coach Lamont Smith expressed how ugly this game was for the Toreros on offense, “Early on our flow offensively was stagnant, causing us to miss shots. We were ball sticking. We failed to move the ball around and knock down open shots.” The Aztecs did a good job of putting pressure on the Toreros to force missed shots.
The second half was no different for the Toreros’ shooting, as it kept getting worse. USD had multiple runs in the second half to continue cutting the lead below ten to keep them within striking distance, although they were unable to match the Aztecs on offense. Matt Mitchell was perfect from the field for SDSU, going 4-4 with 13 points on the night. He hit some crucial shots to keep a comfortable lead at hand for the Aztecs in the second half. Devin Watson was just too much for USD to contain, hitting big shots down the stretch while leading his team to a huge road victory.
Senior Guard, Olin Carter III had a solid night for USD, as he brought energy and finished with 12 points on the night. Junior transfer, Isaiah Pineiro, was the star for the Toreros, displaying his potential in an excellent performance, going 8-18 from the field, finishing with 19 points, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. Another junior transfer for the Toreros, Isaiah Wright, had a strong night, finishing with 10 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals.
Pineiro was one of the few positives after last night for this rebuilding USD program. The 6-7 transfer from Portland State can build off his performance moving forward. Piniero spoke about his team’s disappointing loss. After the game he said, “We didn’t play with as big of a chip on our shoulder as we usually do. During the pregame we were locked in, and then it didn’t show in the game”. He was arguably USD’s best presence on the court tonight.
Although, the Toreros had a tough time filling up the scoreboard, “We got to give credit to SDSU. They are a great defensive team, they’re long and athletic, and they showed up tonight”, Pineiro said. There’s no doubt that the Aztecs have the potential to be a great team this season.
USD was out of sync all night offensively because of the Aztecs stifling lengthy defense. They couldn’t find any open shots to fall on their home court. Ultimately, the Aztecs executed their game plan tonight and showed they were the better team, shooting almost fifty percent from the field while completely putting USD out of sync on offense.
After the game, the University of San Diego athletic director, Bill McGillis, mentioned some positives. “This was a measuring stick game for us, and it was a good battle for USD”. It was a great event, generating good buzz and it was great for college basketball. “We are going to have a hell of a season.” Despite the team’s first loss, McGillis has a good feeling about the Toreros moving forward.
This can be a good lesson for the Toreros moving forward if they want to compete for the West Coast Conference Championship this season. Hopefully, for the 5-1 Toreros, they will forget about this dreadful shooting night and take a step forward, continuing a successful season and the future of USD basketball.
A native of Newport Beach, California, Brett has a passion for San Diego sports and America’s Finest City. He graduated from Drew University in Madison, NJ in 2020 where he majored in Computer Science and minored in Business Studies. Brett is patiently waiting on the Padres first World Series championship and will be bringing you insight and knowledge on the Padres, Aztecs and Toreros.