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.
Coming off of a four-game win streak, the Dons went into their first West Coast Conference series on Mar. 14-16 against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Benedetti Diamond hoping to set a tone for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Gonzaga snatched three close games from USF, completing the sweep and handing the Dons an 0-3 start in conference action.
The San Francisco women’s basketball team lost its fourth consecutive game Saturday, falling 69-64 to Santa Clara in front of 489 at War Memorial Gym. San Francisco also lost 84-46 at home last Thursday against Gonzaga. With Saturday’s loss, the Dons dropped to 9-15 overall (2-9 in Conference play) while Santa Clara improved to 13-11 on the season (5-6 in the WCC).
Despite a strong second half, the Dons could not dig themselves out of an early hole. San Francisco trailed 11-2 four minutes into the game and 23-5 later in the first half.
“Digging ourselves a hole like that does hurt us,” senior guard Mel Khlok said after the game. She led the Dons with 16 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
A three-pointer by freshman forward Taylor Proctor reduced Santa Clara’s lead to 38-24 with 4:29 left in the half and capped an 8-0 run for the Dons.
With 3:33 remaining before halftime, Proctor appeared to make a layup and draw a foul, but she was called for an offensive foul instead. Many in the San Francisco crowd booed and some directed harsh insults at the referee.
Just before the end of the half, Santa Clara turned the ball over and Khlok fired from beyond the arc at the buzzer. She missed the shot but drew a foul, and was awarded three free throws. Khlok sunk two of three, and the Dons went into the locker room trailing 44-32.
Led by redshirt junior center Ruta Zurauskyte’s 12 points on 6-7 shooting, Santa Clara shot 62.5% in the half. Twenty-one of Santa Clara’s 44 first half points (47.7%) came off of San Francisco turnovers.
“Every team has converted on our turnovers,” Khlok said.
“Once we take care of the ball and rebound, we will be all right.”
When play resumed, the Dons immediately lived up their reputation as a second half team. A block of 6’4’’ Zurauskyte resulted in a three-pointer by sophomore guard Taj Winston just seconds into the half.
Soon after, a strong defensive stop and rebound by the Dons led to the second of four three-point baskets by junior guard Alexa Hardick, which made the score 46-40 Broncos with 17:31 remaining.
About four minutes later, a San Francisco steal resulted in a three-point play for Khlok that trimmed Santa Clara’s lead to two (51-49).
“Our defense is always, always what brings us back,” Khlok said.
The crowd at War Memorial Gym erupted when Hardick hit another three-pointer that gave the Dons the lead on their next possession.
The Broncos answered when Proctor fouled Santa Clara freshman guard Brooke Gallaway as she attempted a three-pointer, putting her at the line for three shots. Gallaway hit two of three free throws, opening a 7-0 run for the Broncos.
Santa Clara maintained a one-possession lead for much of the second half, until Zurauskyte hit a jumper that made it 65-61 Broncos with 1:20 remaining.
Hardick answered with a three-pointer that trimmed Santa Clara’s lead to one (65-64) with 51.1 seconds to go.
The Broncos made a field goal, however, followed by a missed three-pointer on the other end by freshman guard Zhané Dikes. Two Santa Clara free throws later, the Broncos defeated the Dons 69-64.
Despite the loss, San Francisco outscored the Broncos 32-25 in the second half, and Santa Clara collected just two of its 23 points off of turnovers during that span.
“The first half was a little rough for us,” Proctor said after the game.
“I think in the second half we wanted it more than them. We are a second half team.” Proctor notched 14 points and five rebounds in the loss.
“We don’t want to give up. We’re fighters. Even though we get down, we always fight back. We’re the kind of team that will never give up,” she said.
Khlok suggested a simple way the Dons might turn close losses like this one into victories.
“We’ve got to come out in the first half with the same fire we have in the second half,” she said.
Khlok, a senior, also acknowledged that this team’s future is bright.
“The program is going in the right direction, and it’s been amazing. We came from getting beat by every team by 30-40 [points], then Coach Azzi came in and we started losing by smaller margins. Now look at us, we’re right in games. Once we fix the little things…we will be all right. We will win.”