The Dons fell to the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs 81-68 in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals in Las Vegas, Nev. after narrowly defeating Loyola Marymount 63-62 in the first round.
Unfortunately for the Dons, their loss to Gonzaga marked the end of their tournament run and ended their season. The Dons faced a myriad of injuries throughout the season and finished the year with a 12-19 (6-12 WCC) record, but ended the 2013-14 campaign on a high note. They were able to win three out of their last four games, with the lone loss coming from the Bulldogs, who are currently ranked No. 21 in the nation.In the Gonzaga game, sophomore forward Taylor Proctor scored a game-high 28 points along with snatching eight rebounds. Proctor’s offensive firepower kept the Dons in the game, especially in a difficult first half for USF. Despite going into halftime trailing 38-27, the Dons were not ready to throw in the towel, and they cut the score to single digits at 64-55 with 6:28 to go. Gonzaga, feeling the pressure of an 18-9 San Francisco run, turned up the intensity on the Dons. The Bulldogs never looked back, and extended the lead on their way to a 13-point win.
Along with Proctor’s admirable effort, junior guard Taj Winston collected 15 points and brought down seven rebounds, but no other Dons scored in double digits.
Prior to their season-ending loss against Gonzaga, San Francisco faced Loyola Marymount in the first round of the WCC Tournament quarterfinals on Mar. 6, and snuck past the Lions with a one-point win. For many fans, the game brought on a feeling of déjà vu. The contest against Loyola Marymount and San Francisco mirrored the last time these teams met, which came on Mar. 1 when the Dons won 80-79 in a game that also came down to the final shot.
San Francisco came from behind in their most recent game against LMU, falling 10 points behind Loyola Marymount early in the second half. Senior guard Alexa Hardick, playing in her final WCC Tournament as a Don, swished a three-pointer, slicing the Lions’ lead to 37-33. Hardick would then go on to score nine more points in the half, and her three-pointer gave the Dons a 57-56 lead with 3:01 left.
The game remained back and forth from there, with neither team leading by more than one in the final three minutes. It was Winston, however, that had the final say. After blocking a Loyola Marymount shot attempt and stealing an inbounds pass in the final minute, Winston gave USF the last possession in the game. Just as she did in the previous meeting between the two teams, Winston grabbed the rebound off of a missed shot attempt and put the ball back up to score the winning basket for the Dons.
Winston was San Francisco’s leading scorer and rebounder for the game, totalling 16 points while reeling in nine boards, and Proctor added 13 points and seven rebounds.
As they head into the offseason, the Dons will have some time to learn from their setbacks this year, and will also look to continue their recent improved play into the 2014-15 season. While Hardick will graduate, Proctor, Winston, junior guard Zhané Dikes, and other members of the team’s core will return next year.
I’m excited that we have such a young nucleus that’s coming back for next year and they’re hungry, they’re excited,” head coach Jennifer Azzi told usfdons.com. “I think the best thing about the end of our season is the players are really starting to own things, and that’s when ultimately we can be successful.”