The Toreros' new Jenny Craig Pavilion - yes, of weight-watching fame - will celebrate its' first anniversary (for basketball) on Saturday. The $17.5M facility was substantially financed by a $10M donation made by the Craig family. With its' sweeping archways, stucco facing, gushing fountains and even a bell tower, 'JCP' resembles more a resort hotel than an arena -- from the outside.
But sporting a cozy capacity of 5,100 seats inside, it promises to be a difficult place for any invited guests to sleep.
Now in his eighth year at the USD helm, head coach Brad Holland – twice named WCC Coach-of-the-Year by his peers who was last-ever recruit signed by John Wooden at UCLA – replaces three starters from last year's 16-13 team, and the WCC coaches predict a similar fate this season for the Toreros, pegging them fifth in the conference pre-season poll (Gonzaga, who visits Washington on December 11, was the coaches' unanimous choice for number one).
Still, San Diego starts four seniors, led by 6-1 sharpshooter Andre Laws. Laws, a 42-percenter from three-point range, will likely lead the Toreros in scoring for a third consecutive season. He poured in 26 points in an easy win over UC-San Diego, and his career-best effort is 28 (against Loyola-Marymount) while a sophomore. Portland-Jesuit freshman Mike McGrain makes the leap from high school to starting point guard, and he'll have his hands full with a hot Curtis Allen. Coach Holland may try to keep the game in the half-court, where the young Huskies are prone to impatience, and McGrain will play a big part in that.
It's a smallish front line with seniors Sam Adamo and Tom Lippold, though Lippold is San Diego's surest defender and will likely draw Husky leading scorer Doug Wrenn. Adamo, really more of a third guard, is off to an awful start but is capable of filling it up, notching two 20-plus point efforts a year ago. 6-10 center Kevin Hanson is a first-time starter as a senior, averaging around 18 minutes a game. SW Texas State transfer Jason Blair is averaging 12.5 points per game as USD's sixth man. Blair, who led SWTS in scoring and rebounding before transferring to USD, has hit 6-of-12 from behind the arc.
The Toreros are returning home from a two-game Oregon road split, beating Portland State 74-59 before dropping a 65-56 decision to Oregon State in Corvallis -- a game which Blair broke loose for 17 points in 20 minutes.
Last December, San Diego visited Washington's own revamped Pavilion for the schools' first-ever meeting, hammering the Huskies 72-54 in a game where the Toreros were never challenged and led by as many as 24 points. Laws led all USD scorers with 11, and Adamo chipped in 10. So for Washington, the contest might serve as a good progress barometer, especially on the road. For while it's far too soon to be stargazing, considering the abundance of Husky youth and a difficult road ahead, it's interesting to note that the last two times coach Bob Bender opened a season 4-1 he took them to the NCAA tournament.
And after two successive 10-20 seasons, even the remotest stars can seem just a little brighter.
POSITIVE VIBES: Washington has out-shot all five opponents so far, hitting 47% from the field to their opponents 37% -- no doubt a result of the team's ability to play "above-the-rim". The Huskies have also been winning the board battles by an average of 8.8 per contest. Curtis Allen is 21-for-22 from the charity stripe – that's a .965 percentage.
NEXT UP: Thursday, December 6 at Texas-El Paso.
Rick Samek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON CL HT PTS REB SAN DIEGO CL HT PTS REB Doug Wrenn SO 6-8 18.0 6.3 Tom Lippold SR 6-5 9.3 3.0 Grant Leep SR 6-7 5.2 3.6 Sam Adamo SR 6-4 6.5 3.8 David Dixon SR 6-11 10.2 8.2 Kevin Hanson SR 6-10 6.0 4.5 Curtis Allen SO 6-0 13.2 5.2* Mike McGrain FR 6-3 4.0 3.3* Erroll Knight FR 6-7 12.0 3.0 Andre Laws SR 6-1 18.5 3.0 (* = Assists)