USF’s post-season basketball hopes came to an early end last weekend when both the men and women’s teams were knocked out of the WCC tournament in the first round games at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The men entered the tournament as the seventh seed and faced off against sixth seed Pepperdine, whom the Dons had just defeated 70-62 in Malibu, in their last regular season game. The Dons lost to the Waves in a high scoring 93-85 contest, in which USF’s star player Dior Lowhorn scored a career high 32 points.
The Lady Dons’ hopes of tournament glory ended with a 73-64 loss to San Diego. The Lady Dons entered the tournament ranked seventh in the WCC and ended the season with a 7-22 record. Gonzaga clenched the women’s WCC title after defeating San Diego 66-55 in the final round.
Gonzaga, currently ranked 12th nationally in both AP and ESPN polls, swept the Men’s bracket to claim their 10th WCC championship after entering the contest as the first seed. They defeated Saint Mary’s in an 83-58 blowout in the championship game, demonstrating their continuing dominance over the WCC and earning automatic entry into the NCAA tournament, although they almost certainly would have been invited had they lost the WCC.
The Dons were no favorite to win the tournament, and ended this rebuilding year with a 11-19 record. They were plagued by losses in games they should have won, notably against Loyola Marymount late in the season when the Lions were ranked last in the WCC.
However, the season was not without moments of triumph. The Dons hung with some of the country’s best teams, notably losing to Gonzaga by only 5 points, and showing strength against Cal and USC.
USF junior Lily Yuan was at the tournament to cheer on the team with a group of dedicated USF alumni including former Los Locos President and Dons aficionado Ryan Dunlop. Yuan is arguably USF basketball’s biggest fan. She only misses games when scheduled to work – as an intern for the Golden State Warriors, her other favorite team – and was until recently the highly visible president of Los Locos, wearing sparkly gold spandex pants and donning green and gold face paint while cheering on the team from the sidelines.
Yuan said she was one of only a handful of current USF students who attended the weekend event, however noted the presence of many prominent alumni, many of whom are donors to the basketball program and active contributors to the Dons’ unofficial online messageboard, DonsCentral.com.
Yuan was expecting the Dons to beat Pepperdine and advance to the second round where they would have faced Portland, and was very disappointed with the loss, placing much of the blame on the referees who were making “ridiculous calls,” she said. “At one point it looked like [Head Coach] Rex Walters was going to get a technical foul called on him because he was yelling so much at the refs,” she said.
Yuan, who promised she does not usually make a point of blaming game officials when her team loses, said it was apparent to everyone in the arena that the game was not being called fairly. “When they finally called one for us the entire USF fan base stood up and clapped,” she said.
But there was revenge: “On Saturday, the day after the Dons lost, we met with a bunch of USF fans and people from DonsCentral and went to a bar and the refs from the game came through and we booed them. That was so funny,” she said.
Even though the Dons didn’t make any progress in the tournament, Yuan is still happy she went. “It was a good experience and I’m excited for next season. I hope more people come out next year,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to go to Vegas?”
She was also pleased with the reception USF fans received in Las Vegas. “There was a USF hospitality event in the hotel next door. It was for all USF fans. Coach Walters did a ‘chalk talk,’ explaining what to expect from the other team, how he thinks we will play and answering fans’ questions.”
Yuan also had warm praise for USF’s Spirit Squad, who were on sidelines cheering for the Dons. “Our cheerleaders were so much better than [Pepperdine’s]. Their dancing was so ugly, we on the other hand were very classy and technical. Our cheerleaders were doing splits and had nice moves,” she said.