Aztecs and Toreros to meet in San Diego battle


WHEN: 8:00 PM PT

WHERE: Jenny Craig Pavilion 

ON TV: Fox Sports West

As always, game will be available to livestream on FoxSportsGO.

With about nine minutes to play in the Wooden Legacy final versus Washington State and up by nine points, it appeared as if the Aztecs were going to overcome an early injury that knocked senior forward Malik Pope out of the game and become the first repeat champion in the history of the event.

Then, senior guard Trey Kell sprained his ankle and had to be taken out of the game. Two important pieces of the Aztecs’ crunch time lineup were out, and Washington State made a run to get back in it. Kell did return as the game tightened, but he was clearly hampered by his injury. The senior did not score the rest of the way as the Cougars closed out SDSU 93-86 to win the tournament.

Despite the loss, coach Brian Dutcher was upbeat about how his team performed in a difficult spot: “They (the team) played pretty well when the two senior captains were out of the game. We took it down to the wire. We had opportunities, they hit timely threes that we weren’t able to answer, but we played well enough to win.”

Even with the injuries, the tournament was successful for the Aztecs. They were able to defeat Sacramento State (89-52) and Georgia (75-68). Devin Watson scored 23 points, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out six assists in the final and ended up averaging 17 points and four assists in the tournament. He led SDSU in scoring and was named to the all-tournament team with fellow guard Trey Kell, who averaged 14.3 points, 4.7 boards, 3.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.

A number of underclassmen were able to gain important on-court experience as well. Nolan Narain, Jordan Schakel, and Matt Mitchell all played key minutes and showed flashes of what they could be as they continue to settle into their college careers.

The Aztecs (5-2) are hoping to get back in the win column on Thursday, as they travel across the I-8 to take on the Toreros (5-0) at Jenny Craig Pavilion. The status of Dutcher’s two seniors are in doubt, as neither have participated in practice this week. Brian Dutcher says it is next man up for his team.

“That  is athletics at every level, professional, college, or high school—guys are going to get hurt. There is not much you can do about that, those that can play will get ready to represent the Aztecs well on Thursday night.”

While the Aztecs will likely not be at full strength, the USD Toreros are full of confidence after a 5-0 start to the season. This start matches the best start in program history, as they were also 5-0 in 1990-91 and 2013-14.

The Toreros’ most recent victory was certainly an impressive one. Lamont Smith’s team marched into Grand Canyon University and handed the Lopes their first loss of the season, 72-62. In that game, G Isaiah Wright nearly recorded a triple double with 16 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds. F Isaiah Pineiro and Yauhen Massalski each scored 17 points apiece to lead San Diego, and Olin Carter III chipped in 15. USD’s defense held GCU to only one made basket in the final nine minutes and 28% shooting in the second half altogether.

After the game, head coach Lamont Smith praised his team, saying he was “extremely proud” of the effort and toughness that his players showed.

Defense has been the story of USD’s season thus far. They are second in the nation in 3-point defense, holding opposing teams to 19% from beyond three point land. They also are only allowing opposing teams to shoot 37% from the field.

Junior guard Isaiah Wright leads three Toreros averaging double-digits in scoring with 14.2 points per game. Isaiah Pineiro and Olin Carter III are both averaging 13.8 points per game

Thursday’s game will mark the 49th game all-time between the Toreros and Aztecs, but it will be the first game in which Brian Dutcher and Lamont Smith face each other as head coaches. In a news conference on Tuesday, Brian Dutcher called Lamont Smith a “very good coach and a very good friend.”

The Aztecs hold a 30-18 record against the Toreros, but are only 9-8 inside Jenny Craig Pavilion. The last time that the Toreros beat the Aztecs was on December 6, 2015, when the two teams played an outdoor game against each other at Petco Park.

For the Aztecs, Thursday’s game will be the last of four straight away from home. After Thursday, the Aztecs will return to Viejas Arena to play Bradley College, Cal, and then Gonzaga.

The Toreros will embark on a two-game road trip at UC Santa Barbara and then at New Mexico State.