The Lady Dons basketball season kicked off Friday night at War Memorial Gym as Coach Azzi and her USF squad welcomed in the Missouri Southern Lions. A few hours later, the Lions were headed back to the midwest, tamed, tail between their legs and sporting a record of 0-1. But enough about them.
The Dons started their newest campaign with a resounding 72-40 home victory. USF’s leader in scoring (16) and steals (4) was senior Mel Khlok, who’s sticky fingers are still in top form, as she is the reigning steals champion on the Hilltop. Besides stripping the Lions of scoring opportunities, Khlok shot at a 50% clip from the field, giving the Dons plenty of offense. After a timid start to the contest, Khlok and the Dons took the reigns and never looked back midway through the first half. Khlok gave the USF an 11 point advantage on a free-throw line jumper with 9:53 to play in the opening half, a lead they would never relinquish. USF’s lead in the first swelled to 16 when senior forward Whitney Daniels snatched a defensive board, kicked it out to Khlok who found senior Bailey Barbour for an easy lay-up.
The all-senior scoring play embodied USF’s game plan: make the extra pass. Instead of forcing a poor shot in an attempt the bolster their own stat line, the Dons gave up the ball to a teammate with a better shot, proven by their 13 assists on the night. This selfless style of play has Coach Azzis fingerprints all over it. As a point guard in the WNBA, Azzi tallied a career average of 4.5 assists per game, and has passed on her assist-oriented mindset to her current squad.
USF was not only able to score seemingly at will (every Dons player netted at least 2 points), they suffocated the Lions offense, keeping each Missouri player from scoring double digit points. The Missouri Southern offense was paced by Dominique Mosley who netted a total of 9 points during her 28 minutes on the floor. She did not receive much support, however, due largely to the Dons not conceding any easy shots, even after the game was well in hand. USF held the Lions to 27% shooting on the evening, and surrendered just 47 shots. The Dons defense also generated 29 turnovers, which lead to 24 points at the other end of the floor, allowing USF to pull away in the second half.
While no wins in sport are easy, Friday’s contest was decided early, as USF was able to dictate the tempo of the game and play their style of basketball. The defense stood tall and the offense capitalized on the opponent’s mistakes. The Dons got their season off to a good start, but the road only gets more challenging from here. After Friday’s exhibition game win, the Dons are off for a week until they host the Hawai’i Warriors on Nov. 9 at War Memorial. San Francisco will enter the game on an upswing after starting their season 1-0.