SAN DIEGO — The Holiday Bowl tournament, which was the Cabrillo tournament until 1985, usually has one dominant, nationally ranked team, such as a DePaul, Villanova or Virginia.
But this season the tournament is better balanced. It features four teams in rebuilding seasons, none which are nationally ranked or even close. Only one has a winning record.
San Diego State (4-5) plays host to Bucknell (5-2) at 8:35 tonight in the San Diego Sports Arena, preceded by Fresno State (3-4) vs. Texas Tech (3-4) at 6:35. The winners play Monday night at 8:35. The losers meet at 6:35 p.m. Monday.
The Aztecs have won only 2 of the previous 11 tournaments. They defeated Purdue, 91-84, in 1977's final and Temple, 75-64, in 1981's. This season, they enter the tournament playing the best they have all season.
After being soundly beaten by the University of San Diego, 76-53, last Saturday night in the San Diego Sports Arena, the Aztecs defeated Dartmouth Monday night, then lost in overtime to a strong Rhode Island team Wednesday.
After the game against USD, Aztec Coach Jim Brandenburg changed his lineup, starting center Sam Johnson in place of Mitch McMullen, forward Caldin Rogers for Juan Espinoza and guard Ty Walker for Tony Ross in the next two games. In both, the new Aztec starters got the team off to quick starts.
Brandenburg also switched senior forward Rodney Hawkins from guarding the other team's top offensive player on the perimeter to playing more inside. And Hawkins has responded. He had 23 points and 13 rebounds against Dartmouth and a career-high 24 points and 12 rebounds against Rhode Island.
McMullen had 9 points and no rebounds against USD, but he came off the bench for 10 points and 9 rebounds against Dartmouth and 13 points and 8 rebounds against Rhode Island. Rogers and Johnson responded with 11 points each against Dartmouth and 8 points each against Rhode Island.
The play of the front line has especially pleased Brandenburg, who had expressed concern over the lack of front-line scoring. Before Hawkins went on his tear, the team's top two scorers were Ross (16.1 points) and Bryan Williams (12.7). Hawkins has overtaken Williams with a 13.3 average.
"It's not a healthy sign when two guards are your leading scorers," said Brandenburg, who had a reputation for developing big men during his tenure at Wyoming.
The Aztecs have to get some scoring from Ross, the team's best pure shooter. Ross scored only 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting against Dartmouth and 5 on 1-of-7 shooting against Rhode Island. Ross missed two opportunities to win that game--an 18-footer at the buzzer in regulation and a 7-footer at the buzzer in overtime.