Can history repeat itself for the San Diego Toreros?
Only time will tell.
San Diego (14-14, 5-7 WCC) took their first step in duplicating last year's run to the NCAA Tournament, bouncing back from Thursday’s 65-61 loss at Saint Mary’s with an ESPNU BracketBusters victory over the University of Pacific (14-11) 66-60.
The Toreros caught fire from beyond the three-point arc and ended a four-game losing streak by outrebounding an opponent for the first time since Jan. 17, a stretch of eight games that produced seven losses.
Led by sophomore guard Devin Ginty, the Toreros hit 9-of-15 three-pointers. Ginty went 4-for-5 from behind the arc, converting his first four, with a season-high 12 points.
“It was great to see us finally step up,” Ginty said of the perimeter shooting. “It has been frustrating the last few games. I know myself and the other guys have been getting in the gym every day and working hard on our (three-point) strokes, but the shots haven't been falling.
"It’s a bit of a relief when shots start to fall, and I thought we played very well as a team tonight.”
Six first-half Toreros’ three-pointers led San Diego to a 34-24 advantage at halftime. The Tigers crept back to within one point with 9:53 remaining, but two more Ginty three-pointers expanded the 44-43 lead to 52-45, and San Diego never looked back.
“It was great to see our guys step up with some confidence and knock them down,” said USD Coach Bill Grier. “They were the same shots we've had in a lot of games that haven't been falling.”
Gyno Pomare scored a game-high 16 points; De'Jon Jackson added 14 and Matt Dorr (11 points, 2-for-2 on three-pointers) also hit double figures in scoring.
After sitting out the first 12 games of the season for a violation of team rules, the Toreros were without the services of Trumaine Johnson, suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Johnson, averaging 11.6 points, was held out of practice all week, did not travel to St. Mary’s Thursday, and was absent on the USD bench Saturday.
One player that did make the trip to Moraga to take on St. Mary’s (22-5, 8-4 WCC) was Geno Pomare, evidently up for the head-to-head challenge with Gaels’ 6-foot-11 center Omar Samhan.
Pomare finished with a game-high 25 points and eight rebounds, but Samhan’s 20 points and 10 rebounds propelled the Gales’ to a 65-61 victory.
San Diego trailed by as many as nine in the second half but climbed within two with 25 seconds remaining after a Chris Lewis three-pointer. But Mickey McConnell hit both free-throws to put Saint Mary’s up by four.
The Toreros now face their toughest stretch of the season, squaring off against the top two teams in the West Coast Conference, Portland and Gonzaga.
“We need to do everything we can, battle and compete, to win these next two games so we have some momentum heading into the conference tournament,” said Grier.
San Diego, currently tied for fifth place with Pepperdine in the WCC, is one game back of Santa Clara for the coveted fourth place finish. A top-four finish would give the Toreros a first-round bye in the WCC tournament, March 6-9 in Las Vegas.
“I'm always optimistic (about his team's chances),” Grier said. “But I'm also realistic that this is the toughest stretch of the league that we've got coming up right now.”