SAN DIEGO — For once, Hank Egan isn't a decided underdog going into a game against a Jim Brandenburg-coached team.
Tonight at 7:30 at the San Diego Sports Arena, the University of San Diego, coached by Egan, will face Brandenburg's San Diego State team in the annual college basketball game for the Mayor's Trophy.
It's not the way it was when Brandenburg's teams at Montana and Wyoming had a physical advantage over Egan's at Air Force.
The rivalry goes back to when Brandenburg coached at Montana (1976-78) and Wyoming (1978-86), and Egan was struggling to build a program at Air Force (1971-84).
Brandenburg was 215-113 before he came to SDSU this season. Egan was 148-185 at Air Force before he compiled records of 16-11, 19-9 and 24-6 at USD.
Brandenburg holds a 9-1 edge over Egan, and the lone Egan victory includes an asterisk. Montana beat Air Force, 65-59, in the 1976-77 season but then forfeited for using an ineligible player. At Wyoming, Brandenburg was 9-0 against Egan.
"We came close, but we never beat them," said Egan, who remembers two losses in particular.
Air Force (2-14 in the Western Athletic Conference in 1982-83) narrowly missed upsetting Wyoming, 51-47, in Colorado Springs in March 1983. That was the positive loss. Then there was the 59-29 defeat in the first game played at Wyoming's Arena-Auditorium in February 1982.
A crowd of 15,004 screaming fans saw the Cowboys jump to a 16-1 lead and lead 29-13 at half. Air Force committed just eight turnovers but made only 8 of 42 shots from the field for 19% in the game.
Egan remembers the loss. Brandenburg remembers the noise.
"No one could hear the whistles," Brandenburg said. "There must have been five or six whistles that nobody heard."
Although Brandenburg holds a big edge over Egan, they are equal in their respect and praise for one another.
"You can tell a Hank Egan-coached team," Brandenburg said. "They play hard, they play good defense, rebound well, have physical courage and mental toughness. I have great admiration for his coaching ability."
Says Egan about Brandenburg: "His teams are very, very sound. They play hard. They play good zone defense. He has played a lot of different ways and adjusts his personnel very well. He's a damn good coach."
Last season, Egan and Brandenburg had teams in the NCAA tournament. This year, both are rebuilding and have struggled. But when you ask them about each other's teams, they speak in glowing terms.
"They're a good team," Brandenburg said. "They have good-looking freshmen who will do nothing but get better. They're playing well for this time of year."
USD is 2-3 and is coming off a 70-54 loss at Boise State Saturday.
"San Diego State is a good ballclub with the potential to be better," Egan said. "They have a little bit of everything. Right now, they play with much more intensity than we do."
SDSU is 3-3 and is coming off a 103-68 victory over United States International Dec. 10. That game avenged a loss to USIU last year. Now Brandenburg will try to reverse two consecutive losses to USD (83-67 and 81-64). SDSU leads the series, 15-7.
For Egan, 2-1 against SDSU, victories over the Aztecs were "extra special."
For Brandenburg, it is the first game against SDSU's main cross-town rival.
"Anytime you have another Division I program in your town, players and coaches want to do well," Brandenburg said. "It's a friendly, healthy rivalry."
Beginning with tonight's game, SDSU games will be heard live on KFMB radio (760 AM) for the rest of the season. Ted Leitner will do the play-by-play. . . . San Diego State is led in scoring by sophomore guard Tony Ross at 19.3 points a game. Senior forward Marty Munn leads USD with a 15.4 average.