Losses, lessons fill Norris' first season at San Diego

As homecomings go, Darian Norris' was a mixed bag.

The Mojave High product returned to Las Vegas on Friday with San Diego in the first round of the West Coast Conference Tournament. Norris had 14 points and three assists before fouling out as the seventh-seeded Toreros ended a 6-24 season with an 84-81 loss to No. 6 Pepperdine at Orleans Arena.

Norris fouled out with 50 seconds to go and his team trailing 76-69, but the Toreros battled for a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. Jordan Mackie's heave from three-quarters court missed as time expired.

San Diego struggled with a young roster this season, but Norris, a 6-foot junior point guard, gave a good account of himself. Norris started all 30 games and led the team in scoring (10.3) and assists (85).

"It was a learning experience, my first year as a point guard at Division I," said Norris, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College. "I was hoping to come home and get a couple of wins and show everyone we were better than our record."

"I'm already looking ahead (to 2012). I've learned to trust my teammates and I'm more vocal. I'm more comfortable with everything."

That Norris wound up at San Diego can be attributed to a fortunate set of circumstances.

After averaging 18.7 points and 7.1 assists as a senior at Mojave and helping the Rattlers to the 2008 state tournament, Norris took his talents to Bradley in Peoria, Ill. But instead of having Norris run the point, coach Jim Les put him at shooting guard.

"It was a positive experience going there. It just didn't work out," Norris said. "At the time, I felt it was good to get away from home. I needed to spread my wings."

Knowing he had no future as a 6-foot off-guard, Norris transferred to Salt Lake Community College, where he ran the offense and caught the eye of San Diego coach Bill Grier. Norris fit Grier's need for a pure point guard and joined the Toreros.

It didn't hurt that San Diego was close enough to Las Vegas that Norris' family and friends could drive to watch him play.

"I was very excited when Darian committed to our program," Grier said. "We needed someone who could lead on the court and he's a very hard worker. He approaches the game the right way."

Closing out games was toughest for the young Toreros this season. Their loss to Pepperdine was the last of six defeats by five or fewer points.

"It's been frustrating, but we've shown a lot of growth," said Norris, who scored a career-high 24 points in a loss to Loyola Marymount on Jan. 8. "We're very persistent."

Grier said he wishes he could have Norris for four years.

"It's been a challenging year for him," Grier said. "We're extremely young and there was a lot of pressure on his shoulders. But he's handled it well and he's become one of our leaders."

Norris said he plans to play this summer in Las Vegas with San Diego redshirt freshman and former Centennial guard Ben Vozzola, former Mojave teammate Anthony Marshall of UNLV, Valley product Hank Thorns of Texas Christian and other local Division I players.

Norris' goal is to get the Toreros back in the NCAA Tournament, for which they last qualified in 2008.

"When I was at Mojave, we had a team that could get up and down the floor," he said. "I'm starting to get that same feeling now with our team."

Mychel Thompson scored 26 points to lead Pepperdine, which will play third-seeded San Francisco in the quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. today.

■ Loyola Marymount 72, Portland 68 -- Drew Viney scored 25 points and Larry Davis made two free throws with 25 seconds remaining as the eighth-seeded Lions (11-20) advanced to today's 6 p.m. quarterfinals against No. 4 Santa Clara. Fifth-seeded Portland finished 20-10.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or at 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter @stevecarprj.