March 2, 2006
(Spokane, WA) - San Francisco women's basketball broke through for its finest effort of the season and powered its way to a 75-67 victory against Gonzaga in the opening round of the 2006 West Coast Conference Tournament Thursday night in the McCarthey Athletic Center. The No. 7 Dons (9-19) pulled off the improbable upset against the No.2 seeded and tournament host Bulldogs (16-14), who had not lost a home game to a league opponent since USF dispatched them 59-53 in the last game played in the Martin Centre.
Gonzaga beat the Dons 71-53 in their 2006 WCC regular season home finale last Saturday at War Memorial Gym. In the two regular season meetings the Bulldogs outscored USF 125-95 and 71-45 in the second half.
San Francisco shot at a blistering .556 (25-45) pace from the field for the game, including .667 (4-6) from long distance. Sophomore guard LaShaunte Stephens was perfect from the floor (8-8) and converted on 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
Sophomore guards Dominique Carter and Stephens each scored a game-high 21 points to lead the Dons. After combining for just 17 points in two games against Gonzaga, the pair combined for 42 points when it mattered most. Freshman guard Shay Rollins added 10 points, while sophomore guard Nykia Peace chipped in eight points and pulled down a game-high seven rebounds.
USF came out firing and converted on .682 (15-22) from the field and built a 15-5 lead on a jumper by junior forward Nickie Warren with 12:10 remaining. Gonzaga promptly rattled off eight unanswered points to close to within one at 15-14, but the Dons responded by outscoring the Zags 19-10 to close the half taking a 34-25 lead into the intermission. Stephens led the way with 10 points, while Carter added nine as USF's starters converted on 13-of-18 from the floor.
After building a 10 point lead in the early going of the second half, the Dons offense went silent for nearly five minutes as the Bulldogs tied the game at 38-38 with 13:37 left on a pair of free throws by junior guard Katy Ridenour. Unfazed, the Dons slowly rebuilt its lead to 11 points and maintained its advantage and thwarted several Bulldogs offensive flurries.
"I am so proud of this team," USF head coach Mary Hile-Nepfel said who collected her 270th career victory. "A week after losing to this team by 20 points we refocused and turned it around. It was a great team effort at both ends of the floor."
It is the Dons first WCC Tournament win since 2002 when it defeated Loyola Marymount 65-63. The victory marks just the third time in tournament history that the No. 7 seed has upended the No. 2 seed and the first since Portland accomplished the feat in an 86-65 win against Santa Clara in 2001.
"This was such a great team win," Carter said, who was held to just 10 points in the previous two meetings against the Bulldogs. "I played with a lot of emotion tonight and I fed off my teammates. We wanted to show we were a better team than our record and we did that tonight."
Stephens echoed Carter's sentiments.
"We played great defense and played together. We played with intensity and focus and we made plays when we needed them," Stephens said.
San Francisco looks for its second upset Saturday in the semifinals when it squares off against No. 1 seed Santa Clara. Tip-off against the Broncos is set for 2:30 PM at the McCarthey Center.