Despite the highlight of a major milestone for a San Diego star in this game, the late game struggles of the Toreros continue as they blew a 6 point lead in the second half to lose 59-56 to Santa Clara on Saturday night. Johnny Dee broke school’s the career scoring record, but the Broncos spoiled the day for USD with their comeback.
The Broncos showed great resilience on a night where Jared Brownridge struggled with just 4 points. But he did have a strong night distributing the ball with a career-high 7 assists. It showed as three Broncos hit double figures highlighted by a double-double from Matt Hubbard with 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Nate Kratch just missed his own double-double with a team-high 14 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Brandon Clark had a good night with 13 points including four key free throws in the final minute that helped seal the win.
November 28, 2014; Fullerton, CA, USA; San Diego Toreros guard Johnny Dee (1) moves the ball up court against Princeton Tigers during the first half at Titan Gym. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Dee had an outstanding game for the Toreros with a game-high 20 points. It was in stark contrast to some of his recent efforts including just 4 points in his last game, a win over San Francisco that is still their only conference win in four attempts this season. Chris Anderson and Jito Kok were the other two Toreros in double figures with 12 and 10 points. Marcus Harris had six points, and no other Torero had more than 2 as the supporting cast of USD continues to have little impact.
The Broncos improve to 7-8 overall and 2-2 in WCC play with the win. They continue to alternate wins and losses in conference play having yet to win or lose multiple WCC games in a row. The Toreros fall to 8-8 overall and 1-3 in WCC play. Three of their four conference games have been decided by three points or less.
Closing out games continues to be a concern for the Toreros. Outside of their double-digit loss to Gonzaga where they were never close, the Toreros have been competitive but struggled late in every WCC game just like they did in the non-conference schedule. Portland went on a 9-0 run including a go-ahead three by Alec Wintering in the final seconds to defeat them in their WCC opener. They struggled late against San Francisco, and only some poor shooting by the Dons allowed the Toreros to escape with a win. And now against Santa Clara, the Toreros again struggled late as the Broncos chipped away at their lead before icing it at the end.
The Broncos showed great resilience including adjusting their game plan with Brownridge not scoring much. He did an excellent job distributing the ball, and others players flourished as a result. Hubbard and Kratch can continue to be quality supporters, and they were a big part of the Broncos having a 35-22 advantage in rebounds. For one of the worst rebounding teams in the conference, that margin was a big factor.
The bigs of the Toreros just aren’t aggressive enough at times and shouldn’t be getting outrebounded by that wide of a margin against a team like the Broncos. But even with that caveat, the Broncos had a good game on the glass and can be much more dangerous if they can start consistently pulling down rebounds.
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Clark having a good game also speaks to the depth and talent of the Broncos. When Brownridge goes from scorer to distributor, Clark is one of the options that will pick up the slack with his scoring. It be weird to say since Brownridge is the reigning WCC Newcomer of the Year in large because of his scoring, but a Broncos team that has multiple guys contributing while Brownridge focuses on moving the ball around might be even better than when the Broncos let Brownridge and Clark do all the scoring. It will be interesting to see what kind of player they want Brownridge to be going forward. Him taking a smaller role may actually help things improve.
Santa Clara goes on a Northwest road swing to visit Portland on Thursday and Gonzaga on Saturday. A win at Portland would be a huge momentum builder heading into Spokane, but both those teams are much hotter than San Diego right now. San Diego gets to return home to host Loyola Marymount on Thursday and Pepperdine on Saturday. Evan Payne versus Johnny Dee will be a fun matchup of high-scoring guards, and the Toreros would really like to get a win against the last pace Lions with the very good Waves coming in after them.