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USD Plays SDSU for No. 1 of Sorts : Toreros’ Egan Sees It as the Game ‘for Bragging Rights’

Times Staff Writer

Hank Egan, the USD men’s basketball coach, is calling it an important game. Smokey Gaines, the SDSU coach, is calling it something very different.

“I get a kick out of people saying that USD is No. 1 in town now,” Gaines said. “What difference does it make? Just because you’re No. 1 in town doesn’t mean you’ll go to the NCAA Tournament. If that was the case, I would have gone six straight years. No. 1 in San Diego? What’s San Diego?”

San Diego happens to be the hometown of both teams, who play at 7:30 tonight in the Sports Arena.

SDSU’s Aztecs had owned the town in college basketball, when it won six consecutive games from the USD Toreros after the series was renewed in 1979. USD, however, broke the string last season by defeating the Aztecs, 81-64.

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“It’s for bragging rights, so it’s important,” Egan said. “It’s a cross-town rivalry. You like to win because pride is involved.”

Over the years, USD players have thought they were looked down on by SDSU’s players.

“At (San Diego) State, we always looked at it as them trying to knock us off,” said Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn, who played for SDSU from 1978-81.

“We were always king of the hill. Players at San Diego State know they’re the major school. Whenever they play USD or USIU, they know the other team really wants to knock them off.”

Now, there may be a changing of the guard. SDSU (0-2) has a sophomore-oriented team expected to finish out of contention in the Western Athletic Conference this season. USD (2-2) has a senior-oriented team that’s expected to challenge for the conference championship.

In preseason, the Toreros play seven of their first nine games on the road, this being their third of six straight away games.

“Now that we’re faced with all these road games, I like it,” Egan said. “We have to use it to develop the strength and togetherness you develop by playing on the road. There aren’t too many fans supporting you on the road.”

SDSU, which plays three of its first four games at home, had only 2,430 at its home opener, a 110-78 loss to Arizona last week. Gaines said he might schedule weaker teams at home during the future preseasons, but he still thinks the Aztecs will benefit from playing Arizona.

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“San Diego State lost bad to UCLA in football (45-14) and learned from the experience,” Gaines said. “It helped them beat the Utahs, Wyomings and Colorado States down the road. . . . Sometimes, losing a game like we did against Arizona seems tragic, but it can help you down the road.”

USD has done well since advancing to the NCAA Tournament in 1983-84. The Toreros were 16-11 in 1984-85 and 19-9 in 1985-86, the university’s best Division I record.

The Toreros were always limited in recruiting by high academic standards. Minimum entrance requirements included a 2.8 grade-point average in academic courses and a 900 Scholastic Aptitude Test score.

Under the NCAA’s new Proposition 48 standards, there is a sliding scale concerning freshman eligibility, ranging from a 1.8 grade-point average with a 740 SAT score to a 2.2 grade-point average with a 660 SAT score.

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“Recruiting across the board is more difficult for us,” Egan said. “Now, we find people in the same ballpark with us that were not there before. A certain group recruited kids before who may not have made it under Proposition 48. Now, a lot of those people are after the same kids we’re after.”

SDSU has suffered considerably lately. The Aztecs are 10-21 since advancing to the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago.

“We lost players like Leonard Allen, Michael Kennedy and Andre Ross after that season,” Gaines said. “It takes a while for schools like San Diego State to build back up. USD has a senior team this year, but it will be in the same boat as us next year.

“The talent pool is down because of the new academic standards for everybody. Because of that, some of the big schools are recruiting kids they wouldn’t have recruited four or five years ago. Therefore, it hurts schools like San Diego State and USD.”

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