Provo • As he was wrapping up his opening comments to the media following BYU’s 96-79 win over Santa Clara on Saturday night, basketball coach Dave Rose said he was looking forward to Thursday’s game at the University of San Diego.
Let’s presume the coach was talking about the weather, because no coach in his right mind would want to face the Toreros right now. Seventh-ranked Gonzaga will attest to that.
The Bulldogs went into Jenny Craig Pavilion on Saturday night as 14-point favorites over a team that had lost three straight West Coast Conference games, then barely escaped with a 65-63 win. The Toreros (11-12, 4-4 WCC) showed they are dangerous when they played well in spurts in a 74-57 loss at BYU on Jan. 19, a loss that started the current skid.
They proved they might be the best sub-.500 team in the country by almost pulling off an epic upset late Saturday night. Certainly, the performance against a Zags team that walloped BYU 83-63 less than two weeks ago will have San Diego thinking it can take down the Cougars (18-6, 8-2).
“I just felt like we fought,” USD coach Bill Grier told the The Spokesman-Review. “That’s what we didn’t do against BYU and Saint Mary’s. [Guards Johnny Dee and Chris Anderson] bring energy. They bring belief.”
Against BYU last month, Dee and Anderson combined for 28 points, and Dee was 5 for 10 from three-point range. Dee had 21 against the Zags, who escaped when David Stockton hit a floater in the lane to give them a four-point cushion with under a minute left.
The Toreros had a chance to cut BYU’s 41-31 halftime lead to six early in the second half, but Ken Rancifer’s three-pointer just missed and Tyler Haws (25 points) helped the Cougars pull away.
Before the Toreros get their shot at revenge over BYU, they must deal with Loyola Marymount on Monday night in Los Angeles, part of a quirky, brutal schedule that has USD playing four conference games in eight days. They finish the killer stretch with Saint Mary’s at home on Saturday.
As for the Cougars, they are a more confident bunch then they were a few days ago as well, having bounced back nicely at home Saturday after that close call win at Pepperdine (63-61) on Thursday.
Amazingly, they scored a season-low 20 points in the first half against Pepperdine before erupting for 47 in the first half and 49 in the second half against Santa Clara.
“It was a good week for our guys,” Rose said.
Anson Winder got his first start of the season, at the shooting guard spot, as Rose used a smaller, quicker lineup to offset Santa Clara’s lethal-from-the-outside attack. With the Toreros also strong on the guard line, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Rose goes with the same lineup again Thursday.
“We will take a look at San Diego, and we will figure it out,” Rose said. “I think our guys are really dialed in to nine guys that could probably start if we wanted them to. Now what we need to do is we just gotta figure out what works the best for our group each night.”
BYU at San Diego
Thursday, 8 p.m.