LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Sometimes seeding doesn't matter. And for the San Francisco women's basketball team, the No. 6 seed just gave the Dons the opportunity to upend No. 3 Pacific 74-64 in Thursday night's quarterfinal action from the Orleans Arena.
Now sporting an 18-12 record, the Dons advance to the penultimate game of the tournament for the first time since 2007. Meanwhile, Pacific awaits their postseason fate after moving to 21-9 on the year, with each of its last two games resulting in a loss to the Dons.
"I'm really, really proud of the team. This was a huge team win," said USF head coach Jennifer Azzi. "They defended, they had a look in their eye tonight like 'we are going to win this game,' and it was fun to see them out there and be able to just pull things together. They've really come out strong at the end of the season. They've bought into continuing to work and continuing to improve throughout the season."
USF was paced by a trio of double-digit scorers, led by senior Taj Winston's 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting and a 9-of-10 effort from the line. Always effective from the stripe where the team ranks 13th in the NCAA, the Dons hit of 26-of-34 attempts from the free throw line.
Taylor Proctor, a junior from Colorado Springs, Colo., added 19 points in the victory and Las Vegas native Zhane Dikes contributed 11 points for the Dons. A total team effort, every woman who entered the contest for USF finished with at least three points and two rebounds.
The Dons spotted the Tigers the first six points of the game and Pacific kept the lead at six when Erin Butler drained her 3-pointer to make it 20-14 in favor of the Tigers with 11:46 to play in the first half. At that point, the Dons went on a 14-2 spurt to take the lead heading into the under-8 media timeout. USF grew the advantage to double digits after a pair of free throws off the hand of Dikes with 3:48 to play in the period.
USF enjoyed its biggest lead of the night after another successful trip to the line, this time by Proctor, made the score 43-29 with 1:32 on the clock. The Tigers closed the period with the final eight points to set the score at 43-37 in favor of the Dons at the break.
Pacific again jumped out early in the second half and knotted the score at 43 apiece after Kendall Kenyon made 1-of-2 from the line with 16:56 remaining in the contest. USF regained the lead and Alicia Scafidi's free throws gave the Dons the 48-43 lead. However, the Dons went cold from the floor and a seven minute scoring drought allowed the Tigers to again tie the game at 48-all.
Pacific edged out to the lead with 7:27 to play after Kristina Johnson's jumper hit the mark, but a layup form Proctor was followed by a swish at the top of the key for Paige Spietz and the Dons were up 56-55. Then, GeAnna Luaulu-Summers answered with a 3-pointer from the right side of the arc. Not to be outdone, Winston's triple moments later gave the Dons the lead for good.
USF would go on to win 74-64 after scoring eight points in the final 39.7 seconds of action. The Dons finished the night shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and won the battle of the boards 43 to 33. Effective in the lane, 26 of USF's points came in the paint compared to just 16 for the Tigers. One of the few blemishes to the USF box score was 21 turnovers, but the Tigers couldn't capitalize on the miscues.
"We've been talking about this moment for days now," explained Winston. "We've been waiting for this, talking about it nonstop just getting ready for the game. It was big for us, but now we're just ready to get back to work and get ready for Monday."
Next up, the Dons will play the winner of No. 2 San Diego and No. 7 Santa Clara. The Dons' semifinal contest is scheduled for Monday at 2 p.m., from the Orleans Arena.