They’ve played non-conference games since November — 15 for the University of San Diego men’s basketball team and 12 for the USD women’s team — to reach this point. In their respective contests, sixth-year men’s coach Bill Grier and eighth-year women’s coach Cindy Fisher have juggled line-ups, put players in position to see how they fare and opposed teams that help define USD’s strengths and weaknesses in preparation for what begins tonight.
The Torero men (7-8 overall record) and Torero women (8-4) open the West Coast Conference portion of their season schedules tonight (Jan. 3). The men host Portland at 8:05 p.m. in the Jenny Craig Pavilion where they’ve won six of eight home games this season. The women open a two-game Pacific Northwest trip, playing at 7 tonight against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., followed by a 2 p.m. Saturday contest at Portland in Oregon.
Here’s an update on both USD teams entering WCC play:
The team’s sub-.500 record in nonconference games could be 11-4 instead of 7-8, Coach Bill Grier said. The missing ingredient is something that needs to be corrected entering conference play.
“We lost four games by five points or less and each time it came down to the end where we didn’t get the key stop, we didn’t make free throws, turned the ball over, something. It cost us in each one of those games. It’s such a fine line and we’re a team that doesn’t have much room for error. We have to do a better job of executing and do it better down the stretch.”
Grier is hopeful that his players are eager to put those mistakes behind them because the competition level in the WCC, especially Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, BYU and Santa Clara who all had double-digit win totals in nonconference play, will certainly test the Toreros.
“Everyone in the conference is going to be a handful,” Grier said. “I think the league is as deep as I’ve seen it. It’ll be a battle every game, every night.”
Fans of the Toreros will know too, whether they attend the WCC games live or watch all of them — home and away — on a variety of TV channels. Grier said it is imperative for his team to get off to a good start tonight against Portland, especially at home.
Ken Rancifer, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, (pictured, left) averages 9.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. He fully understands what it means when WCC play begins.
“The level of competition goes way up now and everybody needs to be ready to compete. It’s no time to mess around, we have to leave it all out there every game, play as hard as we can.”
The Toreros have a sophomore backcourt of shooting guard Johnny Dee (15.2 points per game, made 35 of 84 3-pointer attempts) and point guard Chris Anderson (6.2 assists average, 9.3 points per game, 36 steals in 14 games). Dee (pictured, top right) and Anderson have been solid contributors to the Toreros since last season.
The return of senior forward Chris Manresa to the lineup after missing seven games with an injury in the opener has given the team a boost entering WCC play. He’s averaging 7.4 rebounds and 9.9 points in eight appearances and his presence helps USD’s other big men, 6-11 forward Dennis Kramer, 6-9 forward/center Jito Kok, 6-10 forward/center Simi Fajemisin and 6-9 guard/forward John Sinis.
Grier was pleased with the play of senior guard Cameron Miles, especially how he stepped up in USD’s 66-63 win over Morgan State on Dec. 29. Miles filled in for Anderson, who was out with flu, and he finished with 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and one turnover.
It’s that kind of effort that gives Grier, who said this year’s team is the closest-knit Torero squad he’s had, reasons to believe in this season.
Coming off a season in which the program enjoyed an extended postseason run to the WNIT Final Four, the Toreros are building back up after the graduation departure of senior leaders Dominique Conners, Morgan Woodrow and Izzy Chilcott.
The leadership role this season, certainly in terms of leading by example, has been filled by Amy Kame, the lone returning All-WCC selection from last season.
Kame (pictured, left) was named WCC Player of the Month for November and her standout play continued in December. She capped off the 2012 calendar year by posting a season-high 30-point performance in an 83-73 loss to Iowa on Dec. 30. The 6-foot junior guard leads the Toreros with a 16.6 points-per-game average and has been the leading scorer in seven of 12 games. She leads USD with 39 steals and her 5.8 rebounds-per-game average is second on the team.
Kame has a good supporting cast, although it is a still-developing group. Sophomore forward Sophia Ederaine has not started a game this season, but she has a team-high and WCC-high 22 blocked shots. Freshman forward Maya Hood averages 9.7 points and 4.4 rebounds. Klara Wischer, a senior forward from Melbourne, Australia, leads the Toreros with 8.3 rebounds (99 total, 75 defensively). Alysse Barlow, a junior guard, is a 3-point specialist with a team-high 13 made in 33 attempts. British Columbia’s Felicia Wijenberg, a redshirt junior forward, Katelyn McDaniel, a sophomore forward and senior guard Julia Bennett are each key contributors and Brooke Jelniker and Kameron Knutson have each appeared in all 12 games.
Picked to finish fourth in the WCC coaches’ preseason poll, Coach Cindy Fisher’s squad will be tested early. Gonzaga (10-4 overall) is the defending regular-season champion and USD’s Jan. 10 WCC home opener is against 9-4 BYU, the coaches’ poll favorite to win the conference title. Santa Clara, like USD, went 8-4 in nonconference play.
But Fisher, who directed the Toreros to a 26-8 record last season, including a program-best 12 WCC wins, earned a multi-year contract extension in the offseason. Her program at USD has established itself as a competitive, dangerous opponent for the rest of the conference year in, year out.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos courtesy of Brock Scott (scottphoto.net)