The San Diego State Aztecs extended their winning streak over the San Diego Toreros to nine games with their 57-48 win in the annual City Championship played between the two teams on Thursday night in Viejas Arena. Despite a typically below average shooting performance by the Aztecs, they used their athleticism and size advantage to jump ahead early and never look back. They took an early 13-3 lead and held it consistently the rest of the way using their strong defense. The Toreros threatened here and there but never came close to tying it up.
In terms of individual performances, the Toreros actually got the better of the Aztecs in many areas. Johnny Dee had a game-high 16 points, but he was the only Torero in double figures compared to three for the Aztecs. Jito Kok had a game-high 10 rebounds and was the only player with double-digit boards, but the Aztecs still won the overall rebounding battle.
Chris Anderson was his usual self with 7 assists, but he was shut out in the points column scoring zero points on an ugly 0-15 night from the field. Key contributor Duda Sanadze continues to be bothered by his plantar fasciitis as he missed the game. He has now missed two games this season with the injury and sorely was missed in this one. Sanadze played a key role in this game last season, and he had a good look at a game-winning three pointer at the buzzer that clanged off the rim in last year’s dramatic one-point loss to the Aztecs.
The Toreros drop to 4-4 with the loss, the first time they have not been over .500 this season since being 1-1 after two games. The Aztecs improved to 6-1 and extended two of their major streaks related closely to the Toreros. With the win the Aztecs have extended their streak of beating teams from California to 44 straight. And as mentioned they have now won 9 in a row against the Toreros. Head Coach Bill Grier has still never beaten the Aztecs while at San Diego.
AS GOES ANDERSON, SO GO THE TOREROS
We named Chris Anderson the Player to Watch for the Toreros because of the way he paces the offense. His 22 point performance in this game last season was a big reason the Toreros had a chance to win it, and his struggles this year were a big reason why they never seriously threatened the Aztecs. Anderson always puts up big assist numbers, but when he’s scoring too it adds another element to his game and the entire offense that teams have trouble stopping. So much time is spent guarding the perimeter and shooters like Johnny Dee that when Anderson is slashing and scoring inside, he’s hard to stop.
The Aztecs were just too big and athletic for Anderson, and even when he tried to drive to the hoop he had to pull up and settle for bad shots that just weren’t falling. We said he needed to have a big night offensively for the Toreros to have a chance, and with zero points he had the exact opposite of that. As expected, that led to the Toreros not really being in the game for the most part. And that trend will continue any time Anderson struggles that much.
THE TOREROS HAVE FIGHT
San Diego deserves credit for coming out strong and not being afraid to take shots. They were shooting early and often, and like we hoped they didn’t seem afraid or conservative against a bigger and more talented team. That was exactly what they needed to do, and from there you just have to hope shots are falling. They weren’t against the Aztecs, but that’s nobody’s fault. The Toreros can walk away knowing they played tough, and once again they went into a game casual observers had written off as a blowout and hung with the Aztecs. A few shots start falling, and things could have been a lot different.
JITO KOK EMERGING
Kok continues to quietly turn heads as he might just be fulfilling some of his immense potential. He is tall and a little thin, but well built and strong. He looks like he should be a dominant force inside, but outside of blocks he never has been. Much of this is due to his anemic offense. But that has been turning around this season, and he looked very good putting up 8 points and 10 rebounds against the Aztecs. The game-high in rebounds was especially encouraging as Kok was the one guy who could size up to the bigger Aztecs. He held his own down low, and his stats reflect that.
He’s also still a blocking machine adding three more to his total. If the Toreros can find some consistent outside shooting and Thomas Jacobs can continue to be an aggressive player who helps Kok down low, it will allow Kok to become a more complete inside player. That’s something the small, guard-heavy Toreros desperately need.
Overall it was another good effort for the Toreros. The fact that they have been inching towards making this annual game competitive again says a lot about how they have grown and improved. In terms of their play they gave the Aztecs a game, and had some things gone differently they had a chance. Unfortunately they still haven’t completely found their stride as a few shots the other way could have made it a blowout. This back and forth frustration has plagued the Toreros for years as they always seem to play up to better opponents but cannot bring that same success consistently in games against teams they should beat. Hopefully they take some good positives from this game into their tough stretch of games ahead as we near conference play.
The tough road continues for the Toreros as they head up the freeway to face UCLA on Sunday. Ironically having another big game like that so soon after this one could be perfect timing. The Toreros are now used to a big crowd and a more athletic team, and it should make them more comfortable. They can take their lessons from the SDSU game and try to apply them against the Bruins. It’s their final shot for a marquee win before they will have to wait to face the WCC contenders later this season, so they should be very motivated.