San Francisco Advances to 2016 Women's Basketball Championship
LAS VEGAS -- For consecutive seasons, the No. 6 seed San Francisco women's basketball team is advancing to the West Coast Conference championship game. The Dons took care of No. 2 Saint Mary's 67-65 on Monday afternoon at the Orleans Arena.
With the victorious effort the Dons notched their 20th win of the season, a mark not seen since USF made its last NCAA tournament in 1997. USF now stands at 20-11, and the Gaels move to 24-7 after the semifinal loss.
"There's a lot of things that didn't necessarily go according to game plan but this game tonight was all heart. They definitely wanted it," said USF head coach Jennifer Azzi. "Huge free throws at the end by Taylor, huge three by Z and her hand on the ball at the end – the players just executed toward the end of the game and I'm just very, very proud of them."
USF was paced by 19 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for senior Taylor Proctor on the day, her 26th career double-double and the 10th of the season. A beast in the second half in USF's two games at the tournament, 15 of her points came in the fourth quarter against Saint Mary's. Combined through USF's two contests, Proctor is 10-of-11 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the free throw line in the final quarter of game action. In Monday's contest, some of her pivotal points came as she swished a pair from the line with 7.1 seconds on the clock, sealing the outcome in favor of the Dons. Fellow upperclassman Zhane Dikes added 14 points and a game-high five steals. Her fifth and final theft of the contest at the most crucial time.
The Dons were up 64-63 with 10.4 ticks to play when Dikes earned a trip to the line. The typically steady shooter and USF record-holder for career made free throws missed both of her attempts and Carly Turner of Saint Mary's flew in for the defensive rebound. After a called timeout by Gaels coach Paul Thomas which advanced the ball to the front court, Turner was tapped to throw the ball in for Saint Mary's and start their offense, but the Dons defense had other plans in mind. Anna Seilund got a hand on the play and Dikes recovered the rock for USF.
"At the end, when they were throwing it out of bounds, I was just thinking we've got to stay up on each other," recalled Dikes. "We were talking, we were locked in. I had a feeling we could get a steal because when we're locked in on defense, we can stop anything. With Anna being able to get her hand on the ball and myself being able to get to the line, I just couldn't be proud."
The Las Vegas native got fouled with 8.2 remaining, and Dikes sunk her first attempt from the line. She missed the second, but Proctor swooped in for the rebound and got immediately fouled. She sunk both her attempts to stretch the lead to four, and give USF the cushion it needed to hold on for the victory.
The contest was tight throughout with neither team able to build more than a seven-point advantage. For the Dons, that came early in the second quarter after back-to-back layups by Rachel Howard and Kalyn Simon made it 19-12. USF continued to hold the lead until the 3:06 mark in the third when Lauren Nicholson sparked seven unanswered for the Gaels. Saint Mary's went up by seven with 23 seconds to play in the third after consecutive drives to the basket for layups for Nicholson put the score at 41-34.
USF scored the next seven in the game to tie it up, but the Gaels again edged out to the late-game advantage after a successful trip to the line for Devon Brookshire made it 53-47 with 4:42 remaining. Proctor's outside touch gave USF the 57-56 lead with 1:02 to play, but Saint Mary's answered with a three of their own. Then, Dikes hit the eventual go-ahead basket off the pass from Seilund as she connected from long range with 38.3 seconds remaining to make it 60-59 in favor of the Dons.
The Dons and the Cougars will meet for the third time this season, and the second-straight WCC championship game. BYU took both regular season meetings, but each game saw the Dons with the lead in the fourth quarter before the Cougars eventually pulled away for the victory. USF and Saint Mary's are scheduled for a 2 p.m. Tuesday tipoff, and the game is televised on ESPNU.