Men’s basketball team posts a 2-2 record in tough stretch of four games in eight days

The Toreros hold their own against three of their toughest West Coast Conference opponents as they look ahead to the WCC Championship next month.

By Alex Manessis
Edwin Blebu

The men’s basketball team’s 65-63 loss to the No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs on Feb. 2 was the first of four games in eight days for the Toreros, their most demanding stretch of the season.

Two days after the loss to the Bulldogs, the Toreros defeated the Lions of Loyola Marymount University in dramatic fashion 69-68. Sophomore guard Christopher Anderson made a reverse layup with 0.2 seconds remaining to win the game after dribbling the length of the floor.

“All game LMU came hard at me on my drives, blocking my shot,” said Anderson. “The only thing I thought was I’ve got to reverse it. I used my athleticism for a reverse layup. End of story. Game winner.”
The Toreros used the momentum gained from their victory against the Lions to defeat the favored Brigham Young University Cougars 74-68 at home on Feb. 7. The victory marked the second straight victory for the Toreros, who avenged a January loss to the Cougars, and in the process moved into fourth place in the West Coast Conference standings.

After winning the opening tip-off, senior forward Chris Manresa came out of the gate strong, scoring the Toreros first six points from the post. Despite Manresa’s strong start, the Cougars jumped out to an early 18-10 lead, quieting the larger-than-usual student section in attendance.

After a few minutes of sloppy play caused primarily by BYU’s zone defense, USD got back on track. The Toreros shot an excellent 50 percent from the field. Their accurate shooting, coupled with a strong rebounding performance erased the deficit before halftime.

Showing few lingering effects from an ankle injury sustained earlier in the week, sophomore guard Johnny Dee ran around screens all night, frustrating the Cougar defense. Dee led the Toreros in scoring with 19 points, including three 3-pointers.

A brief look at the stat sheet does not tell the whole story. The Toreros played solid physical defense, forcing the Cougars into bad shots. There were several instances in which Torero defenders forced opposing guards into ill-advised drives to the basket that ended in either a steal by Anderson or a charging foul against the Cougars.

Freshman forward Jito Kok blocked two shots, solidifying his position as the West Coast Conference’s top shot blocker. While Kok is still raw offensively, the energy and athleticism he brings to the court should excite younger Torero fans.

The most impressive Torero on the night was senior forward Ken Rancifer. Rancifer was aggressive on the offensive end, scoring 16 points, including some big three pointers in the second half. He also had two blocks, the second of which led to an acrobatic fast break layup by Anderson. His second half three pointers were daggers that nullified any threat of a Cougar comeback.

The aggressiveness shown by Rancifer was infectious and spread to the rest of the team. Offensively the Toreros attacked the Cougars’ zone defense, driving to the basket more frequently than in previous games. This forced the defense to collapse, allowing for open three pointers for Dee and Rancifer. The Toreros also won the rebounding battle against the normally excellent Cougars 38 to 22. Most notably, Manresa and sophomore forward Dennis Kramer each finished with 10 rebounds while limiting the effectiveness of opposing center and 2011-2012 All-WCC selection Brandon Davies.

In the final game of this challenging part of the schedule, the St. Mary’s College Gaels defeated the Toreros for the second time this season on Feb. 9 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion with a final score of 74-64.

Dee again led the way for the Toreros, scoring 19 points while grabbing seven rebounds. Senior guard Matthew Dellavedova scored a team high 19 points for the Gaels, contributing five of the team’s 12 three-pointers over the course the game.

The Toreros got off to a slow start in the opening minutes of the game, as the Gaels went started on a 12-2 run. However, the Toreros were able to bounce back with help from Rancifer who made two three pointers that brought the Toreros within two points with 11 minutes to play in the first half.

Despite the Gaels’ consistent shooting, the Toreros managed to tie the game with 30 seconds left in the half at 34-34 after a dunk by Manresa. After a timeout the Gaels pushed the ball up the court and scored off an alley-oop to reclaim the lead going into the second half.

The Toreros started slowly once again in the second half as the Gaels increased the their lead to seven. Dee carried the scoring load by scoring seven consecutive points to bring the Toreros within three points at 47-44 with 13 minutes remaining. The Toreros could not put together a substantial run to withstand the Gaels’ consistent second half shooting. Sophomore forward Brad Waldow sealed the game for the Gaels after making two consecutive layups with less than two minutes left in regulation.

“I think we just ran out of gas tonight,” said head coach Bill Grier about the loss. “I don’t feel good about tonight’s game. But if I just look at the four games – the way we played against Gonzaga, winning on the road at LMU, and the way we beat BYU, I feel good about this stretch with so many games in such a short amount of time.”

After the stretch, the Toreros are 13-13 overall and 6-5 in the WCC, putting them in fourth place in the conference behind the Bulldogs, the Gaels, and the Cougars. The Toreros are looking to finish the season strong in order to receive a first round bye in the WCC Championship in Las Vegas next month. The Toreros’ next home game is Feb. 28 against the University of San Francisco Dons.