The USD men’s basketball team is preparing to play two perennial powerhouses, Duke and UCLA, this December.
USD will travel to Durham, NC to play Duke on Dec. 2, then to Los Angeles, CA to play UCLA on Dec. 19. Between Duke and UCLA, they sit 16 NCAA national championships.
“They’re some of the most prestigious college basketball teams in the nation, and so it is definitely going to be a bit more of a challenge,” said Tyler Hagedorn, a junior forward. “But with our team this year, I really believe that we have the guys and the mentality to go in there and knock off teams that are top 10 in the country.”
Head coach Craig Smith said he’s confident in the team’s abilities.
“There’s a way to win every game,” he said. “You gotta be able to adapt and adjust.”
USD played their first Big 10 game against Nebraska last season. Although the Huskers won the game, the Coyotes outscored them in the second half 30-28.
Smith said these games help prepare the team for the Summit League Championship and possibly the NCAA tournament, which is made up of teams of similar caliber to Duke and UCLA.
David Herbster, USD’s athletic director, said the games have many other pros to them.
“The university will receive branding and exposure from the east coast and the west coast,” he said. “The competition is some of the best in the country.”
Hagedorn said he’s excited for the games, but the big names don’t have him star-struck.
“It’s a business trip, we’re expecting to win,” he said.
Smith recalled the moment his team found out they were going to be playing Duke. The team was at his house at their end of the year meeting, watching a video montage previewing their upcoming games when the Duke logo popped up on the screen.
“Our guys just stood up and just erupted,” he said. “They were so fired up about it.”
Bigger travel plans
Rick Karius, director of USD’s men’s basketball operations, said these extensive trips to the coasts demand a closer look at details.
“Part of it is just the travel time,” he said. “You gotta bus to an airport, you gotta fly, you gotta get another bus there. Anything local around here, it’s nice just being able to bus to a game, you don’t have as many other details to worry about.”
The Coyotes won’t just be playing the big ticket game on their trips to the coasts. Before playing Duke, they have a game scheduled against UMKC in Kansas City, MO on Nov. 30. Preceding the UCLA game, they face Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, AZ on Dec. 14 and San Jose State in San Jose, CA on Dec. 17.
Winter break doesn’t officially start at USD until Dec. 13, meaning many fans won’t be able to make the trip to North Carolina for the Duke game, but it will be broadcasted on national television on ESPN2.
Despite the big-name opponents and detailed travel plans, Karius said most aspects of the trips will stay the same: there will be time to watch film, form study tables and practice in between games.
“We stay pretty business as usual,” he said.