Australians Explode, Drop Dons in Regular Season Finale

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A basketball shot from behind the arc takes roughly one second to travel from the shooter’s hand to the rim. With thirty seconds left in a close game, that single second of waiting to see whether that shot will lift your team to victory or clang off the iron takes a lifetime to play out. University of San Francisco guard Cody Doolin was certain that he had netted the clutch three that would have pulled USF within two points of the Saint Mary’s College (SMC) Gaels. Unfortunately, the ball bounced tantalizingly out of the basket and the Dons fell to the Gaels 67-60 in their final home game of the season this past Saturday, February 25.

Saturdays’ contest on the Hilltop between the gold-clad Dons and their East Bay rivals carried plenty of post-season implications along with some unsavory history. Coming into the game, the Dons had not beaten the Gaels in six seasons. A win at home would have not only snapped that brutal streak, but also bounced St. Mary’s right out of the Top 25 national rankings and cost them the outright WCC title. Sadly, a couple of blokes from Down Under combined for 30 points and led Saint Mary’s past the home team in a packed War Memorial Gym, where Even Betty White put in an appearance.

The night started off well enough, with a ceremony honoring seniors from both the Spirit Squad and USF Men’s Hoops. All three of USF’s basketball seniors (Angelo Caloiaro, Rashad Green and Jay Wey) were on the floor for the tip, which ended up in the hands of SMC’s Aussie standout Clint Steindl (16 pts). However, none of those sixteen points came before USF’s half-court trap forced two turnovers by the mop-haired point guard. Green (10 pts) dropped two free throws to give the Dons an early lead, which grew to a promising 5-0 before SMC came roaring back. The Gael’s proceeded to open up a 6-point lead on USF just over five minutes into the game. Fans got a scare when Cole Dickerson drove the lane and went down hard, prompting a short trip to the locker room. Fortunately he was soon back on the court, and the Dons continued to keep pace with the Gaels.

USF’s zone-trap defense forced the high scoring Gaels to settle for jumpers rather than relying on their vaunted inside game. Strong defense and aggressive penetration by USF made the game a back and forth affair throughout the entire first half. A last second put-back by Perris Blackwell (12 pts) gave the Dons a single point advantage going into the locker room at the intermission.

Unfortunately the second half did not fare that well for the Dons, and it started early with SMC rattling off a 12-2 run to start the period. Michael Williams (10 pts) did manage to get the crowd riled up enough to deafen those SMC fans brave enough to venture into the city. On a fast break, the junior guard got up, way up, enough to get over the top of a pursuing defender and slam the ball home. Not twenty seconds later, Williams dropped three more through the cylinder for USF. Yet, for every piece of brilliance put forth by USF, St. Mary’s was able to score just as elegantly and at a pace that USF’s defense could not keep up with. A constant nuisance, Gael’s forward Brad Waldow dropped his third double-double of the season on USF, with all of his points coming in the paint. Nevertheless, the Dons, spurred on by Blackwell’s physical demeanor around the rim, pulled within four at the 7:41 mark after Rashad Green laid in two points to make it 54-50.

In the final seven minutes, USF began to struggle in the paint on offense and the Dons missed many second chance points that could have kept them in the game. USF was stuck at 52 points for nearly five minutes, allowing the Gaels to gain some momentum and build a decent lead. At the 2:05 mark, Doolin nailed a three to put USF back in the game; a plan SMC had no intentions of following. Saint Mary’s continued to pass the ball with precision and avoid the Dons defense at all costs, trying to kill time in order to end the game with as few USF possessions as possible. This worked until Doolin picked Steindl and fed a streaking Williams for two points to make it 63-60.

When SMC answered, USF needed a long ball and Doolin once again responded. He offered up a great shot that held the crowd breathless, as it bounced in and around the rim before popping out. Caloiaro tried to put the rock back in the bucket but missed with just twenty four seconds left. USF was forced to foul and hope the Gaels could not hit clutch free throws. As one might expect from a ranked team, SMC’s Beau Levesque dropped two of his sevens points on the ensuing foul shots and USF’s fate was all but sealed. After a few decent looks by USF, Rob Jones (14 pts) pulled in one last rebound for SMC just prior to the final buzzer. Once the clock reads all zeros, the SMC bench erupted in celebration as they claimed the outright WCC Championship over Gonzaga.

The Dons will travel to Las Vegas to compete in the Zappos.com WCC Tournament where they are the #5 seed. They will play either Portland or Santa Clara in their first contest on Thursday, March 1 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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