SAN DIEGO — Most college basketball coaches will tell you that the five timeouts they are given for each game are as important as their whistles are in practice.
Assistant coaches keep track of them as they would their kids at an amusement park.
But the University of San Diego coaches didn't keep track of their timeouts in Saturday night's West Coast Athletic Conference game against Santa Clara.
USD called one too many--with 58 seconds remaining--and a possible comeback bid was cut short in a 56-54 loss in front of 1,444 fans at the USD Sports Center.
USD trailed, 50-45, when Santa Clara's Chris Lane was fouled and went to the free-throw line to attempt a one-and-one.
USD Coach Hank Egan signaled timeout before Lane's first attempt, and that was unwise. The Toreros had taken their last one with 1:32 to play.
After Lane made both ends, Santa Clara was awarded two foul shots and possession for a bench technical. Lane made one of two free throws. Mitch Burley then was fouled while shooting after the in-bounds, and he made two free throws.
By the time USD got the ball back, it trailed, 55-45. Even three-point goals by Randy Thompson and Marty Munn in the final 20 seconds left the Toreros two points short.
"I just made a mistake," Egan said. "It was all my fault. It's my responsibility to know how many timeouts we have left."
As it turned out, USD nearly overcame 15 turnovers and 39% shooting in the first half but couldn't overcome this final mistake. The Toreros fell to 8-9, 0-4 in the conference. Santa Clara (12-5, 3-1) is tied for second place with San Francisco and Pepperdine, one game behind Loyola Marymount.
The Broncos were led by backup forward Burley, who came off the bench to hit 6 of 7 three-point shots and finished with a career-high 24 points.
Burley made all four of his three-point attempts in the first half as Santa Clara took a 30-23 lead.
The Toreros took only seven shots (making two) in the first eight minutes and fell behind, 17-5. They then went on a 16-4 run and tied the game, 21-21, before falling behind again.
"It's like we're out there doing the best we can, but it just isn't enough," forward Mike Haupt said. "Something goes wrong, and it takes us too long to overcome it."
In the second half, USD kept the game close behind the play of junior guard Danny Means, who had 20 points.
Means hit a jumper, and Munn scored on a rebound layup to bring the Toreros within 50-45 at the 1:03 mark. Then the unexpected happened.
Referee Gary Bunker said officials usually warn coaches when they're out of timeouts, even though it's not required. Bunker said he wasn't sure if somebody in his crew had told Egan, but if someone did, the message didn't get through.
"It's not up to the officials," Egan said. "It's up to us to know."
On this occasion, they didn't know. As a result, USD found a new way to lose.
"Sometimes, you just start to wonder, what's going to happen to us next," Haupt said.