The men’s and women’s basketball regular season has come to an end, meaning there is only high-stakes basketball left to play. The men’s and women’s teams will be traveling to Las Vegas this week to compete in the West Coast Conference tournament, fighting for the title of WCC Champions and a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
The men’s team had a rocky regular season, finishing with a 7-9 conference record with an overall record of 18-13. Second-year forward Isaiah Hawthorne told the Foghorn that the team’s “consistency wasn’t there the way it should have been” during the regular season. It was a season full of highs and lows for the Dons. They suffered a tough loss to University of Texas, Arlington despite being favored by 15 points going into the game. They then beat a top 25 ranked Arizona State University team by 37 points two days later. This pattern continued as they could never completely get their footing all season long.
Despite the lack of consistency, the Dons have also shown that they can compete with the very best in the conference. They were one basket away from beating Gonzaga University on the Hilltop, a game where the Dons led for the majority of the time, and they were narrowly defeated by Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. Although the Dons were defeated, the performances showed their potential since both Gonzaga and SMC are ranked in the top 25 in the nation and have finished the regular season tied for first place in the WCC.
Knowing their potential, USF believes they are ready to “shock a lot of people” said Hawthorne. “Our expectations are to pretty much win the whole thing honestly, we know we have the pieces to do,” Hawthorne continued. The Dons will be the sixth seed going into the tournament and will be facing off against either University of the Pacific or Pepperdine University, depending on which team wins their matchup. Since USF won every match up against those teams this season, the Dons are not too worried about their first matchup. “We have to handle our business and get the job done because anything can happen but those are two teams we should definitely beat,” said Hawthorne.
If the Dons do advance, they have a tough road ahead in order to reach the tournament finals, having to win games against Santa Clara University and then Gonzaga — two teams that swept USF this season. The team particularly struggled against Santa Clara this season, losing both games against them by double-digits. Hawthorne believes that USF can get their revenge as long as they out-hustle Santa Clara on the boards. “One of our kryptonites has been rebounding this season,” said Hawthorne. He explained that USF is 16-2 when they outrebound their opponent compared to 2-11 when they get outrebounded. As long as they win the rebound battle, Hawthorne said, USF can beat anyone.
The women’s team dealt with a lot of the same issues in their regular season. “We struggled with consistency a bit this year. There are some games we dropped that we definitely felt we shouldn’t have dropped,” said fourth-year guard Jasmine Gayles to the Foghorn. One in particular was their first conference game against Loyola Marymount University, which is a team that has struggled all year, winning only seven total games. Gayles said that was a game where “we honestly just didn’t show up.”
The Dons particularly struggled with closing out games, such as their home loss against Portland where USF had a 16 point lead in the fourth quarter. “Being able to close out games has definitely been a big focal point for us. It’s something we’re working on. And no better time to figure it out than now,” said Gayles.
In spite of their struggles, the Dons finished the regular season with a 9-9 conference record and an overall record of 19-11, good enough for fourth place in the conference. Achieving a top four spot in the conference is huge for their WCC tournament chances because now the Dons’ first game will already be in the quarter finals. Although being the fourth seed helps their chances, anything can happen. As head coach Molly Goodenbour said in a recent press conference, the tournament is “a whole new season and every game is your last game.”
Considering how competitive the WCC is, there is no saying who will come out on top. “Nobody in the conference is undefeated. Anybody can really be beat by anybody, no matter what, no matter if it’s the last place team or the first place team. It’s really anybody’s game going into it,” said Gayles. Although anything can happen during tournament play, Gayles is confident in the team’s ability to win. “Everybody has an important role on the team… and I think that it’s pretty evident that our team is pretty hard to beat when we’re doing those things,” she said.
The women’s team will have their first WCC tournament matchup on March 5 at 1 p.m. while the men’s team will be playing their first game on March 3 at 8:30 p.m. Both games will be available to watch on the WCC Network.