San Diego State men’s basketball will face a familiar opponent on Wednesday night, when the team welcomes in University of San Diego to Viejas Arena.
The meeting will be the 50th between the two schools separated by less than 10 miles of interstate highway.
The distance between the two teams has been more evident on the court, however, with SDSU (5-2) defeating USD (6-2) in 11 of the team’s previous 12 meetings.
The last time the Toreros left the Aztecs house with a victory was back in 2000, when previous SDSU head coach Steve Fisher was in only his second season at the helm, and the name on the arena still read ‘Cox’.
Head coach Brian Dutcher has since taken over as the man in charge of the Scarlet and Black, and said his team is excited to continue improving during its non-conference schedule.
“This will be a good test for us, to see how we’re coming as a team,” Dutcher said. “We’re nowhere near what we need to be, but I think we’re making small steps, and we’ll see if we can make another step on Wednesday.”
Despite the Aztecs recent history of success in the matchup, the Toreros boast a team with four senior starters that has won four its last five games.
“They’re playing like an experienced team,” Dutcher said. “ I think some of their young guys are trying to catch up, but they run their stuff extremely well and they will present a great challenge.”
USD, which plays in the West Coast Conference, is led on offense by Isaiah Pineiro, a senior forward averaging 21.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
In addition, senior guard Olin Carter III is averaging 17.6 points-per-game for the Toreros, and is coming off a 21-point performance in the team’s victory against Long Beach State on Dec. 1.
Senior guard Jeremy Hemsley could be tasked with guarding Carter, himself fresh off a season-high 17-point performance in a win against Illinois State on Saturday.
“We know it’s a team we can’t take lightly,” Hemsley said. “They have a lot of vets on the team, a lot of returners and they’ve got a good coach. So we know we’ve got to be well prepared like any other game.”
The last time the Aztecs lost a game to the Toreros was during Hemsley’s freshman season in 2015, when the team’s matched up in an outdoor game played inside Petco Park.
Hemsley is now one of three senior players on the team, and said he is relishing the leadership role which comes with it.
“You want to be able to be that guy for the younger guys. That they can go up to you and ask you what they’re doing wrong or what they could do better,” Hemsley said.
The team’s youth has not held it back so far this season, with sophomore forwards Jalen McDaniels (14.6 points-per-game) and Matt Mitchell (12.7 points-per-game) both putting up consistent numbers for the Aztecs.
SDSU has also benefited from strong rebounding by true freshman forward Nathan Mensah, who has a 21 combined boards in the past two games.
“I think when (Mensah) and Jalen are out there together, it’s that length rebounding-wise that helps,” Dutcher said.” “Hopefully his rebounding will continue to get better as the season goes on and that will make us better defensively.”
Another big contributor has been senior guard Devin Watson, who leads the Aztecs in scoring with 15.9 points per game to go with nearly five assists.
Watson, who transferred to SDSU after his sophomore season at San Francisco State, said he is glad to help lead his less experienced teammates.
“The younger guys come up to me like a big brother,” he said. “I remember being a sophomore and treating my seniors the same way, so it feels good to be in this position.”
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