The St. Mary's Gaels showed the University of San Francisco Dons why they are the team to beat Saturday night at War Memorial Gym in San Francisco. A 14-2 St. Mary's run to start the second half propelled the mighty Gaels to an 86-68 victory over USF.
A sellout crowd of over 4,500 fans packed the tiny gym at the University of San Francisco, and while St. Mary's fans filled part of the gym and made themselves heard from tip-off to the final buzzer, it was USF's massive student sections that provided much of the noise and atmosphere starting about five minutes before tip-off as chants of "USF, USF, USF" filled the gym.
They came expecting an upset, and for the first 22 minutes the Dons of San Francisco put on a tough-nosed and gritty performance. USF was awarded two free-throws to start the game as St. Mary's was assessed a technical foul for dunking during the pre-game warm-ups. Rashad Green hit one of two.
Despite the early one point lead, St. Mary's came out shooting threes. In the opening 10 minutes the Gaels hit six three-point shots. However, USF kept the Gaels within sights, never allowing the Gaels to get up by double-digits. The Dons defense tightened in the second part of the first half, not allowing any more threes from St. Mary's.
The Dons, led by Mikey Williams and Rashad Green, scoring 17 points each, rebounded to close the half only down by two. The crowd at War Memorial Gym erupted with applause, still smelling that possible upset with the score 36-34, St. Mary's in the lead.
The second half opened with a Dons defensive stand which turned into an easy lay-in for Perris Blackwell. Tie game, 36-36. But the Gaels suddenly awoke. Led by Mickey McConnell, 19 points, and Matthew Dellavedova, 14 points, the Gaels sprinted ahead to a 14 point lead at 50-36. The Dons would cut the lead down to nine, but St. Mary's always had the push back ability and did not let USF get any closer; at a couple of points going up as much as 20.
In the second half, St. Mary's shot 14-21 from the floor and committed only five turnovers. The Gaels did what they do best in the second half: drive the ball down low, pass to the open man, and make the open shot. They made quick and smart passes, corralled offensive rebounds, and exploited holes in the USF defense that played most of the second half without big men Blackwell and Moustapha Diarra.
St. Mary's taught a youthful USF team a valuable lesson: play your game, play it well, and profit from. St. Mary's didn't change the way they played in the second half, they didn't have to, they simply executed their game plan better and it was too much for the Dons.