Young USD Plays Better but Still Loses to Pepperdine, 92-77

You're University of San Diego Coach Hank Egan, and you have just sent three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior out to start a West Coast Athletic Conference basketball game against one of the league's best teams, Pepperdine, in its gym at Malibu.

Your team is coming off its worst loss since it joined Division I in 1979, by 40 points at Loyola Marymount the night before.

You're worried.

"All I asked is that we get a great effort from everybody," Egan said.

Well, the effort was better, but the result was no different in that it was a loss. Pepperdine, behind Tom Lewis' 29 points, beat USD, 92-77, Saturday night in front of 2,883 fans in Firestone Fieldhouse. The loss dropped the Toreros, the defending conference champions, to 0-2 in WCAC play, 8-7 overall. Pepperdine is 10-5 and 2-0.

The Toreros had a career-high 20 points from sophomore Craig Cottrell and 20 more from junior guard Danny Means. And USD stayed in contention until six minutes remained, when the Toreros trailed by only 73-65 after being behind by as many as 15 early in the second half.

"I thought Hank did a good job with his team, bringing it back after that loss to Loyola," Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick said, referring to Friday's 115-75 defeat. "That's not always easy to do."

USD actually played even with Pepperdine for the first 6 1/2 minutes and had an 18-17 lead. But then the Toreros went 6:30 without a basket, and Pepperdine took off on a 17-0 run, opening a 34-18 lead with 6:55 remaining in the first half.

Egan used two timeouts during the streak in an attempt to keep his young team together.

"We talked about not letting one error turn into another and then having another error turn into another," Egan said.

USD came apart against Loyola's press Friday but was able to hang in against Pepperdine's pressure for the most part. However, four turnovers contributed to the Pepperdine run, and the Toreros never completely recovered after falling behind by 16.

But they never really fell apart, either.

Midway through the second half, Means hit a pair of three-pointers and Cottrell hit two free throws to bring USD within eight, 73-65, with 6:25 left.

In the next two minutes, Marty Munn threw away a pass and missed a forced three-point jumper, and Pepperdine pulled away for good.

Munn, USD's leading scorer, made only 2 of 10 shots after making 4 of 10 against Loyola.

"He wasn't shooting well, and he rushed some shots," Egan said. "If you don't have it going, you have to recognize that and work the ball a little more. I'm sure he'll get straightened out."

Said Harrick: "I like their young kids. They're smart and they hustle. They're a lot like we were last year (when Pepperdine finished seventh in the conference). Give them some time."

Also, give them some better rebounding at the defensive end. Pepperdine had 18 offensive rebounds, and the close-in attempts that followed produced seven three-point plays. Each time USD got close, Pepperdine seemed to come up with a three-pointer underneath after winning the battle for a loose ball.

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