SAN DIEGO — University of San Diego Coach Hank Egan had some firm ideas on how he wanted his team to approach the so-called second season. He got his way, sort of.
"I didn't want us to back up to the pay window," Egan said after the Toreros defeated Loyola Marymount, 99-84, here Saturday night in the first round of the West Coast Athletic Conference tournament.
"I wanted us to attack in this game. I didn't want us going to San Francisco on a lark, because it will be for all the marbles next week."
The Toreros, the league's regular season champion, overcame a case of first-half jitters to advance to the semifinals of the WCAC tournament to be held March 6 at the University of San Francisco. USD will face seventh-seeded Pepperdine, which defeated Gonzaga Saturday night.
The tournament winner is assured of a berth in the NCAA tournament later in March.
The Toreros, who led by only two points at halftime, went on a 34-13 run to build a 79-59 lead with 8:33 remaining.
Center Scott Thompson led the charge with 15 points en route to a 24-point evening. Marty Munn came off the bench to score 10 points, and Mark Manor hit three of his six three-point baskets during the run.
USD extended its unbeaten streak to 14 games, third longest in the nation. The Toreros finished the regular season 13-1 in conference and are 24-4 overall.
Guard Chris Nikchevich scored 20 points to lead Loyola, which finished 12-16 overall.
"The game was where we wanted it at halftime," Loyola Coach Paul Westhead said, "but we missed some easy shots in the second half. USD has a lot of balance and this was a great win for them."
The Lions, after forcing a faster pace than USD liked in the first half, were unable to stay close after the Toreros made some halftime adjustments.
Egan changed his team's mental outlook and its defensive strategy.
"We were nervous in the first half and we didn't hustle like we should have," Thompson said. "I think we had the tournament jitters. But after coach chewed us out at halftime, we hustled a lot better in the second half."
Guard Danny Means, who was 3 for 6 from three-point range, played a role in the revised defense.
Egan assigned him to harass the Loyola point guards as they brought the ball up court.
"I was trying to slow the ball down and prevent the easy passes," Means said.
The Toreros had mixed zone and man-to-man defenses in the first half before going to a straight man in the second half, according to Egan.
"They were beating us in the transition game in the first half," he said. "I think they got 13 points by beating us down the court. The key was when we went to a straight man-to-man defense in the second half."
USD built a 41-22 halftime lead in an earlier game here against Loyola, but had a far more difficult time in the first half Saturday night.
Loyola raced to a 16-7 lead on a three-point basket by Enoch Simmons.
The Toreros, forced to play at a faster tempo, quickly regained the lead on a three-pointer by Manor.
They expanded their lead to nine points on another Manor three-pointer with 3:25 left in the half before the Lions rallied to cut the lead to 45-43 at halftime.
Loyola led for the last time when Simmons hit a three-pointer in the opening minute of the second half.
Then, Thompson, Manor and Munn got revved up.
"Basically, we just started hustling," Means said. "We came into this game thinking we would win, and I think the way we played the second half, we showed we are really starting to blossom."
There was one distraction midway through the second half.
Loyola's Mark Armstrong was at the foul line when a rugby ball was tossed onto the floor from the vicinity of the USD student section.
The rugby ball struck the basketball in Armstrong's hands, angering the player and causing Egan an uneasy moment.
"An incident like that could swing a game," he said. "I've never seen anything like that, and I hope I don't see it again. It's not fair to anybody.
"I just told our players to concentrate on the game and forget the craziness."
Egan's fears went unrealized as USD scored eight straight points after the incident.