SAN DIEGO — For some reason, Jim Brovelli held his postgame press conference in a cold, dark doorway, the wind whipping San Francisco-like across his narrow face.
"It's hot in this gym," he explained. "It's sure tough to play a game in here."
For 11 seasons, this hot gym was his. And some of the current University of San Diego basketball players used to be his too. When Brovelli coached here at USD, he recruited people like Scott Thompson and Nils Madden and Steve Krallman and so on. And these same kids were the ones who left him out in the cold Saturday night.
Because, in front of 2,500 in the USD Sports Center, it was Madden and Krallman and Thompson who helped USD to a 68-56 victory over Brovelli's new team, the University of San Francisco.
USD remains tied with Gonzaga for first place in the West Coast Athletic Conference (12-4 overall and 3-1 in the league). USF (12-5 and 2-2) falls out of a first-place tie. But that's OK. Brovelli is just beginning to revamp USF's once-storied basketball program, and he's asking only for close games.
He got one here.
The first half was a foul one. Thompson, USD's 7-foot center, picked up three fouls and only played 6 minutes 21 seconds of the half. The Toreros turned to Krallman, left-handed and gangly, to keep them in the game, and he actually scored six straight points in one stretch. Also, Madden worked hard underneath the basket and had 13 points and 8 rebounds by intermission.
The score was 35-27.
Thompson returned in the second half, as USD assistant coaches kept reminding him not to foul.
"Don't take the fake on defense!" they would say.
Thompson played smartly and had eight rebounds and no fouls in the second half. Madden continued to score and rebound (he finished with a season-high 23 points and 12 rebounds), but USF--a group of young, fast athletes whose only problem is that they can't shoot--made it a close game.
With 5:31 left, USF's Anthony Mann (15 points) banked a shot to cut USD's lead to 54-51. USD's Paul Leonard dribbled the ball up, passed the ball to somebody else and then the ball ended up in the hands of Mark Manor, an adequate shooter but no Steve Alford.
He shot a three-pointer.
So the lead was six, and USF ended up missing its next four shots (and also committed an offensive foul). When Madden took a pass and made a layup with 1:35 left, it was 63-53 and over.
"It's not really that far," Manor said of his three-pointer. "It's more of a mystic thing. It's like you're thinking, 'Oh, a three-pointer.' It's a glory shot, but it's not that hard to make."
But his shot had made it hard for USF to come back.
"That was a killer," Brovelli admitted.
Brovelli had an excuse of sorts, though. His leading scorer, Patrick Clardy, missed the game with a sprained ankle. And USF needs all the points it can get, because its players throw a lot of bricks.
In four conference games, the team is shooting 38%.
But after dropping the program in 1983, this is USF's only second season. The Dons went 7-21 last year, but four of last year's starters are now on the bench. That's progress.
And speaking of progress, Brovelli is impressed with the way Madden, Thompson and Krallman have improved. When Brovelli first saw Madden, who grew up in Forestville, Calif., he was a skinny kid who didn't do much rebounding. Look what happened Saturday?
When Brovelli first saw Thompson, he was an uncoordinated project. Look what happened Saturday?
The same with Krallman. Look what happened Saturday?
Playing against Brovelli kind of gives the USD seniors some extra incentive.
"He's a great coach," Thompson said with a smile, "but we kind of want to stick it back in his ear for leaving us."
But there are no hard feelings.
"Coach Brovelli is a cool guy," Madden said.
Brovelli, standing in that cold doorway, was kind of warmed when told of Madden's remark.
"I think Nils is cool too," he said.