Another big game, another competitive yet frustrating loss for the Toreros. Playing against their second marquee opponent of the week, San Diego led at halftime but faded in the end falling 75-68 to the UCLA Bruins in a game at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on Sunday. Coming off a hard-fought to the #13 ranked San Diego State Aztecs on Thursday, it looked at times like the Toreros would use their momentum from that game to upset the Bruins. But superior talent eventually prevailed.
Johnny Dee was his usual self tying Bryce Alford of the Bruins with a game-high 22 points. Dee entered the game 19th in the nation in scoring at just over 20 points per game, and that number and ranking will be remaining about the same. The big news for the Toreros was the breakout performance of Cal State Northridge transfer Brandon Perry who poured in a season-high 16 points, by far his best game to date at San Diego.
Nobody else contributed anything significant for the Toreros however. Jito Kok had another quietly solid game with 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Chris Anderson meanwhile had his second straight poor game. After scoring no points in the loss to San Diego State, Anderson contributed just 4 points and 5 assists against the Bruins. Thomas Jacobs had a good night with 8 points and 6 rebounds, although he seems to have regressed from the consistent double-digit scorer he seemed to be becoming early in the year. Duda Sanadze continues to be hampered by plantar fasciitis as he scored just 6 points in 14 minutes of action. No other Torero that appeared in the game scored more than 3 three points.
UCLA meanwhile did not have their most dominant game, but with such a talented core they still survived. Kevon Looney continues to look like one of the best freshman in the country as he put up 18 points and 11 rebounds. He continues to average a double-double this season. Alford and Norman Powell were the other two Bruins in double digits. All five UCLA starters entered the game averaging double figures, but the Toreros held Tony Parker and Isaac Hamilton to 8 and 6 points respectively.
MORE THAN JUST SHOOTERS
The first half of this game when the Toreros took a small lead into the locker room was a real positive for the Toreros. It may have been one of the better halves of basketball they have played all season. They were leading all the major stat categories over UCLA including ones they really had no busy leading in against such a talented tea like rebounds and points in the paint. Kok and Perry did a very admirable job inside against the very good Bruins post players, and it was great to see. They couldn’t put another half like together to close it out, but seeing the Toreros be more than a team that has to rely on guard play and long-range shooting is a big positive.
BRANDON PERRY EMERGES
Perry is one of the big keys to this season for the Toreros. Jito Kok has gotten a lot better, but he is still not a consistent offensive threat. Perry is big and powerful, and he came into the year expected to be that elite scoring presence inside that the Toreros lost with the graduation of Dennis Kramer. He hasn’t done much at all to date, so to see him finally get it together and do it against one of the best teams San Diego will play is huge. They are infinitely better if he’s putting up 10-15 points and 5-10 rebounds per game, so if he can stay hot it changes a lot.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Unfortunately as the season has gone so far for the Toreros, the effort by Perry and yet another big game from Dee was wasted with absolutely no support from the rest of the team. This was the 5th of the Torero’s 9 games so far where two or fewer players hit double digit points. Perry had a big game, but nobody else stepped up. And core players like Anderson, Kok, and Jacobs were just average. Brett Bailey continues to be a non-factor. Sanadze is still hurt. The freshmen still seem a long way from being consistent contributors.
If more guys don’t start putting it together, more games like this will happen where a couple good performances won’t be nearly enough against talented and deeper teams that will get good team efforts even on bad nights. This was a great example. The Bruins had a down game by their standards with two of their five core players having off nights. But the other three starters have great games, and it was enough. Having 1-2 guys a night give good efforts for the Toreros can’t stand up to that. And when they face teams that have it all working, it’s going to lead to blowouts.
GETTING OVER THE HUMP
A lot of what we just talked about concerning a team effort is why the Toreros have been very frustrating to date. Like last year, they seem to be a team stuck in neutral. They have the talent to have with any team they play, but they don’t play well enough as a complete unit to ever get the upset and close out a game. Their best effort seems to be to play close to a good team, but fade let as their talent struggles and the superior team on the other sides goes in for the kill. The UCLA was a carbon copy of their other big games against Boise State, Xavier, and San Diego State. The Toreros look like they can win, they stay in the game for a while, but they fade late and end up having no chance in the end. At this rate it’s going to be another season where all their talent is squandered because they cannot get it together and close out big games.
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The Toreros conclude their toughest portion of their schedule with a trip to visit the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos this coming Thursday. They will have to deal with star Alan Williams, a double-double machine who is one of the best mid-major players in the nation. Last year the two teams played in the Jenny Craig Pavilion where the Gauchos mounted a big second half comeback for the win. In an eerily similar game to the ones we just talked about, the Gauchos were down at halftime and Williams was being shutout. But he came alive in the second half as the Toreros once again faded late and let UCSB steal the win.
This year the Toreros enter the game well-seasoned coming off to big games, so hopefully history does not repeat itself. Kok and Perry in particular will be the players to watch as they are finding their stride. That will be critical against a player like Williams, and they should help define the game especially with almost everyone else besides Dee struggling right now.