As his team made a run through the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) last March, the University of San Diego men’s basketball head
coach Sam Scholl preached the value of the experience his players were gaining.
“We call it ‘training camp for March of 2019,’” Scholl said after the Toreros’ 88-72 win over Hartford University in 2018. “That’s what we’re calling it, you know, an opportunity to play in March with our bodies feeling the way we do, our minds, and to be able to find a way to get a win in March. And so it’s great training for years to come.”
A year later, with the West Coast Conference (WCC) Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada rapidly approaching, Scholl and his team will have another chance at success in March, this time with more experience under their belt.
“Hopefully it’ll be a long and exciting time in Vegas,” Scholl said. “We have a very excited, confident bunch that’s excited to come out and play for each other.”
USD will begin play in the WCC Tournament as the seven-seed, taking on tenth-seeded University of Portland on Thursday night. The Pilots were the WCC’s worst team this season, failing to win a game within the conference en route to a 7-24 (0-16 WCC) record. Despite Portland’s dismal record, the Toreros have good reason to take the matchup as seriously as they would one with any other opponent. Though USD beat the Pilots in both regular-season meetings, Portland played the Toreros extremely tough on Feb. 21 in the Jenny Craig Pavilion, keeping things close deep into the second half in a game that featured 10 lead changes.
“We’re playing a Portland team that has good talent, a very good Coach in Terry Porter,” Scholl said. “Nothing else can happen without taking advantage of Thursday. All our thinking, all our focus, and all our belief is about what we’re gonna have to do to win on Thursday.”
Senior guard Tyler Williams weighed in on the Toreros’ first-round opponent.
“We’re very optimistic, we feel like we should have a lot of confidence going into that game,” Williams said. “We’re 2-0 against them this year but we know that’s not guaranteeing us anything. We gotta go in and be extremely disciplined, focus on the details, and be determined to get the win regardless of the circumstances.”
Though the Toreros (18-13, 7-9 WCC) have had plenty of big wins and big moments this year, their season as a whole has been plagued by inconsistency at times, something that Scholl said they are actively working to address as their first-round game draws closer.
‘There’s definitely been some ups and downs this season, and the team’s learned a lot, I’ve certainly learned a ton as a coach,” Scholl said. “Hopefully we’re able to put it all together and really make a disciplined effort and have a disciplined mentality to not let those things get in our way.”
The Toreros will have a chance to put it all together in a familiar venue. The WCC Tournament takes place in the Orleans Arena, where USD played two games in December as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. The Toreros fared 1-1 in the Classic, with the loss coming in double overtime to Drake University.
“It’s gonna be kinda familiar surroundings for us,” Scholl said. “That was part of the plan in scheduling that tournament was a chance to get to play two games in the arena where you ultimately wanna win a championship in March. We’ve always shot the ball pretty well there going back a couple years, so I think we feel good going in there because it’s a place that we can make some shots.”
Redshirt senior guard Isaiah Wright weighed in on the setting of the tournament.
“I like that gym,” Wright said. “It’s a neutral court, and everybody’s gotta play on the same court, and that’s what’s fun about it. We got a couple extra games in December in that arena, and hopefully, that will carry over this weekend.”
As a program, USD men’s basketball hasn’t won a game in the WCC Tournament since the 2012-2013 season, when the Toreros defeated Pepperdine University and Brigham Young University before ultimately falling to Saint Mary’s College. No player on USD’s current veteran roster has been a part of a WCC Tournament victory, and that fact is not lost on any of the Toreros.
“For our seniors, you can sense some urgency, that ‘okay, it’s time, we have to put it all together,’” Scholl said. “That’s one of many sources of motivation for this group, for those seniors.”
Wright spoke about his team’s upcoming postseason journey.
“Especially for us seniors, it’s coming down to the wire,” Wright said. “We gotta make the most of everything, starting today, and enjoy the togetherness, and see what we can do with it.”
To Williams, it’s a matter of making sure he and his teammates leave it all on the court.
“It’s crazy, really, because you don’t know which game is going to be your last,” Williams said. “Every night from here on out we have to go out and just show what we’re made of and what we’ve built this program on, and that’s just playing hard, competing at a high level, and executing. At the end of the game, if we did all those things, we may come up short, but we’ll rest easy knowing we gave it everything we had.”
Though Scholl repeatedly stressed that the Toreros’ sole focus right now is their game on Thursday, he stated that when his team is at its best, it can compete with anybody in the WCC.
“I believe if we play 40 minutes of disciplined, connected basketball, we’re playing for each other every possession, we have an opportunity to compete against anybody,” Scholl said. “They want to have a season to be remembered, and a season that people at USD will look back on for many, many years. That’s what they’re focused on, that’s what they’re determined to do, and we’re excited about the work toward Thursday on that.”
WCC MEN’S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: FIRST ROUND
No. 7 USD vs. No. 10 UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND
THURSDAY, MARCH 7 @ 8 P.M.
WATCH: SPECTRUM SPORTSNET / THEW.TV
LISTEN: MIGHTY 1090 A.M. APP