Story by Rainier Cardin
All wins in sports feel good, but to truly grasp how the Dons felt Thursday, one has to go back to Malibu on Jan. 29. The Waves squeaked out a narrow victory at home, costing the Dons a shot at first place in the WCC. Thursday, the Dons got even on the Hilltop.
With 1.2 seconds left in overtime, Rashad Green stood tall at the free throw line, the game literally in his hands. Down 78-77, the Dons needed Green to hit both free throws to complete their come-from-behind win. Green hit both with ease. The Dons held their ground while Pepperdine attempted to baseball throw the ball in from half court. The win enabled the Dons to extract a bit of revenge upon their earlier defeat. It also gave the Dons a shot at a ten-win conference season.
The contest, however, did no start out the way the Dons would have liked; Pepperdine came in prepared for a brawl in the low post and they came out swinging, gaining an early advantage in blocks. The Waves took an early lead while the Dons struggled to find a rhythm, constantly making substitutions. Complicating the Dons situation was Mychel Thompson (31 points), for whom USF seemed to have no answer for the whole game. Late in the first, USF started to gain some momentum, going on a 6-0 run before the Waves’ outside shooting slowed the Dons down. Coach Walters took his team into the locker room at the half down, 26-39.
The Dons started the second half with a more solid game plan; kick it low to Perris Blackwell (13 points) and Moustapha Diarra and let them post up on the smaller Pepperdine forwards. Blackwell showed serious heart under the rim, throwing himself on the hardwood, chasing down rebounds and drawing fouls while out-hustling Pepperdine down low. With twelve minutes left in the game, USF was rallying and the student section responded. For the remainder of the game, the students drove the team and, in turn, the Dons game excelled on the court. Thompson was quieted by USF’s defense while Angelo Caloiaro (17 points) and Michael Williams (13 points) hit outside jump shots to cut the lead to 3 points with 10 minutes left in regulation, during which there were 11 lead changes. USF seemed poised to win it when Caloiaro hit two clutch free throws with under a minute to go but with 10 seconds left; Thompson once again hurt the Dons by nailing a 3-pointer from the top of the arch. A spirited but off-target lay up by Williams sent the game into overtime.
Pepperdine won the OT tip-off, but Green sunk the first points of the period with a jump shot from the right side of the key. Over the next 5 minutes, the lead changed 8 times, forcing the students to stay and cheer their team on. Their efforts were not in vain. The Dons started to take charges — drive the lane hard and force Pepperdine to take bad shots. Sadly, with 7.7 seconds left in OT, USF found itself out of time and down by one point. Nevertheless, Green, from the right corner, drove hard to the rim and on the way up got fouled by Gus Clardy, sending him to the charity stripe with the game on the line.
In one of the more exciting games this season, the Dons were not only victorious but also able to keep their hopes alive to claim a first round and second round bye week in the WCC tournament by virtue of claiming 2nd place with a Gonzaga loss.
Story by Chris Carson
In the season’s final game Saturday at War Memorial Gym, the USF Dons topped the Loyola Marymount Lions, 77-75, placing the Dons in third place of the WCC going into the conference tournament to be played next week in Las Vegas.
Before tip off, lone senior Moustapha Diarra was honored at center court for his time in a Don uniform. The 6’10” Diarra, originally from Marseille, France, has averaged about 7.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in two seasons with the Dons.
Diarra did not disappoint once the game started. The senior led a balanced scoring attack with 16 points, and also led the Dons in rebounds, grabbing 7, four of which were offensive.
Other notable performers for the Dons included forward Angelo Caloiaro, who scored 13 points, connecting on three 3-pointers. Forward Peris Blackwell scored 12 points, shooting a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line. Freshman guard Cody Doolin had a game high with 8 assists. Overall, the Don’s had five players score in double digits.
The tough win over Loyola Marymount is number 10 for the Dons in conference play, their most conference wins in over 20 years.
The Dons will face either Pepperdine or San Diego in their first game of the WCC tournament. USF will be granted a first round bye in honor of their 2cd place conference finish.
Pepperdine finished the conference play, 5-9, and split the series with the Dons. Pepperdine beat the Dons 94-88, at Pepperdine on January 29th, but the Dons got them back on February 24 at USF, winning 79-78 in overtime. Pepperdine and USF are similar teams, both averaging just under 70 points per game.
San Diego lost to the Dons in both meetings by 10 points or more. The Toreros finished the conference play at 2-12 after a 37-point loss to Gonzaga on February 26.
In all likelihood, the Dons will see Pepperdine for the third time this season in their first game of the conference tournament.
If they can get past the Waves, then the Dons will probably face Gonzaga. After the Dons overtime victory over the Zags at Memorial Gym on January 22, the Dons traveled to Spokane, where they were thoroughly beaten by Gonzaga 73-55 on February 19th.
Even if the Dons do beat Gonzaga one more time, they will, in all probability, play the No. 24 ranked Saint Mary’s Gaels, for the WCC championship.
That’s looking far down the road, but it gives a sense of the challenges the Dons face and how impressive it could be if they pull it off.
This year the Dons have competed against four top 25 teams. They have beaten conference rival Gonzaga for the second year in a row, and even beaten Colorado, led by future NBA lottery pick, Alec Burks. Colorado just beat the No. 5 ranked Texas Longhorns.
The WCC tournament will be tough for the Dons, but they have played tough all year. Regardless how the season ends, the young Dons have a lot to look forward to next season when they return with all but one player.
Good luck next week, Dons. And to all the students who can’t make it to Las Vegas, catch the games on Comcast Sportsnet.
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
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