Just one year ago, the Dons were able to sweep the competition and claim the West Coast Conference title. This year the team went in with just a high hopes with a strong finish to the regular season and an even higher seeding than last year. Though San Francisco was able to get past Loyola Marymount University (14-16) in the quarterfinals, they were eventually stunted by the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-6) in the semifinals.
In the quarterfinals against LMU, USF went in confident knowing they were able to best the Lions in their two regular season meetings, one of which had come just two weeks prior. The first quarter was very tightly contested. Loyola Marymount was able to cling to the lead for most of the time the spread scoring of the Dons was able to snatch the lead with 1:22 remaining after after a jump shot from junior Anna Seilund 19-18. Then after split trip to the line from sophomore Alicia Roufosse, the Dons finished the quarter with a 20-18 lead. In the second quarter, after a pair of threes and a pair of layups, LMU regained the lead 28-22. After an exchange of buckets, both teams went into a two-and-a-half minute slew of missed shots, junior Michaela Rakova was able to knock down a three to cut the deficit to three points and another one right after to knot the game a 30 each. The Lions kept working themselves to the free-throw line and worked back up to a four-point lead but Rakova once again hit back-to-back shots from distance to claim a 36-34 lead, that was the last time the Dons trailed the rest of the game. USF finished the half with a 41-34 lead.
Seilund dropped in seven third quarter points, three of which open the scoring in the second half and gave the Dons the first double-digit lead of the game. After an 11-point lead after a pair of made free-throws from Seilund, the Lions went on a 10-point run and closed the gap to a single point, 48-47. LMU was able to tie the score twice in the quarter at 50 and 52 but just couldn’t take the lead. In the fourth quarter San Francisco played solid fundamental basketball by working the paint and being efficient from the free-throw line. USF had five layups and made 14 of their 18 attempts from the line. At one point the Dons built a 15-point lead 75-60. By game’s end the scoreline read 80-67 in favor of San Francisco.
After moving on to the semifinals, USF ran into the Zags who they split the regular season series with. Although the Bulldogs lost the most recent matchup they were coming off dominant 32-point win against Pacific in their own quarterfinal matchup. The first quarter was absolutely abysmal, not scoring their first bucket until the 5:37 point and scoring their last bucket of the quarter with 3:36 remaining. San Francisco missed 16 of their 18 shots ranging from layups, midrange jumpers, and three-pointers. Gonzaga on the other hand ran away in the first quarter with 22 points and a 22-4 lead going into the second quarter. The next ten-minute set was more of the same, USF once again struggled and only recorded 13 points in comparison to the Bulldogs 25. With a 47-17 lead, San Francisco’s energy was sapped and the team couldn’t have been anything else but frustrated going into the locker room. Howard led the first half scoring effort with eight points but from an inefficient 3-of-11 shooting.
The Dons fared better in the third quarter but the Bulldogs built a daunting 35-point lead before Howard split her free-throws in a trip to the line. It seemed as though every time San Francisco would hit a basket, Gonzaga would come right back and hit two of their own. With 3:07 left in the third quarter the lead even inflated to 41 points. In the fourth quarter the Zags decided to start resting some of their players. Though USF won the quarter 14-9, it was only a small victory in an overwhelming loss, 77-46. The Dons shot 25.7% from the field and 13.3% from beyond the arc. Both teams had 15 turnovers and USF lost the rebound battle 38-43 but ultimately a poor shooting night led to their demise.
Although the season didn’t end in a WCC championship a lot of good things can be said about the season San Francisco had even with a surprise coaching change. Though they’ll be losing a handful of seniors, it seems Rakova and Seilund are primed for big years again next season. The NIT still looms and regardless of an invite or not, I’m sure the returners will only be taking a short break before getting back into the gym.