SAN DIEGO — When it was over and the University of San Diego had clinched the West Coast Athletic Conference regular-season championship by defeating Gonzaga, 61-48, in front of 2,500 fans Thursday night, Hank Egan took an involuntary bath courtesy of his players, who threw him in the swimming pool outside the USD Sports Center.
A few minutes later, Egan, wiping away drops of water still falling off his head, was asked about his players, who have now won 11 straight games to give the school its second conference title in four years.
"They're simply a bunch of real nice kids," Egan said.
"Nice?" someone asked. "They just dumped you in a swimming pool."
"They are nice," Egan said. "It's just that sometimes I'm not nice. I've had this coming for a long while, I think."
And the players were more than happy to oblige. Especially since Egan lit a fire under 7-foot center Scott Thompson late in the second half, helping to pull the senior out of his lethargy long enough to carry the Toreros to victory.
"Coach yelled at me a little bit," Thompson said. "That got me going."
At the time, Thompson's presence in the middle was imperative.
USD's 11-point second-half lead had dwindled to one, 42-41, with 8:18 to play when Egan called a timeout and pulled Thompson from the game.
He was mad at Thompson for allowing Gonzaga's center, 6-8 Dale Haaland, to get off a couple of inside shots.
"I didn't really think he (Haaland) could shoot that well, and he was getting his shots off quickly," Thompson said. "I knew I had to get back in there and jump a little more quickly myself."
By the time Thompson returned two minutes later, USD's lead was 43-41 on a free throw by Mark Manor. Thompson threw a pass to Paul Leonard, who hit a short jumper to put USD ahead, 45-41. A free throw by Roger Bock cut the lead to three again before Thompson went back to work.
Haaland tried another short jumper but this time Thompson blocked it. USD went inside to Thompson, who hit a short bank shot to push the USD lead to 47-42.
Manor then came up with a steal and the Toreros again went to Thompson. He hit a running hook in the lane to make it 49-42 with 4:12 left.
Time out Gonzaga.
"I think the block really helped turn things around for us," said Thompson, who finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds, a big improvement over his first effort against Gonzaga this season when he was held without a rebound in a 58-46 loss.
"I came through in the clutch this time, I guess," Thompson said. "Maybe they figured, 'Oh, oh. He's starting to play now.' Whatever the case, I think that I peaked at that point in the game and that helped us."
Thompson wasn't the only key for USD, 11-1 in conference and 21-4 overall.
The Toreros' defense, stingy throughout the season, held Gonzaga without a field goal the final 8:28. In the first half, USD held the Bulldogs (8-4, 17-8) without a point for 8:46.
"In the first half, we did a good job in our zone defense," Egan said. "Then, Gonzaga did some things to combat that in the second half. We switched to man-to-man the last eight minutes and that switch, I think, was the key."
In the first half, Gonzaga did a good job of keeping the Toreros from getting the ball inside to Thompson. USD was forced to shoot from outside and, besides Manor (13 first-half points), the Toreros were having trouble hitting.
Manor made three baskets (two from three-point range) in the first six minutes to give USD a 12-6 lead. Then, however, the three-pointers stopped falling and Gonzaga worked its way to a 14-12 lead midway through the half.
USD kept firing from outside and Danny Means and Manor each hit three-pointers to help USD get the lead back. Thompson finally got free for two baskets inside and Means hit another three-pointer to put the Toreros ahead 31-20 at the half.
"We knew the second half was going to be a battle," Egan said. "We told the kids that they were the type of team that wouldn't go away. We knew we would have to keep battling."
With the regular-season championship now in hand, USD can begin preparing for the first conference postseason tournament, which starts next week.