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Chance to Dance
Photo via Kyle Terada/2018 West Coast Conference
Photo via Kyle Terada/2018 West Coast Conference
March 6, 2018

LAS VEGAS – Forty minutes. Two thousand, four hundred seconds. That’s all that separates USD’s women’s basketball team from grabbing scissors, climbing a ladder, cutting down a net inside Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

That, and a very formidable road block, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

But after beating Pacific 66-56 in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament Monday afternoon, setting up a 1 p.m. championship game today against the Zags, the Toreros (17-14) were not in the mood to be intimidated by anyone. Not even Gonzaga (26-5), which has won 13 of the last 14 WCC regular season titles.

“Right now,” said senior forward Sydney Williams, sitting in an ice bath deep in the bowels of the Orleans Arena, “I think they should be a little scared of us.”

How’s that for confidence.

Despite the ice bath, there was no cooling off Williams. The 6-foot-1 forward from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, led USD past Pacific, scoring 20 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing two assists. Williams shot 7 of 9 from the field. Inside the three-point arc, she was a perfect 7 of 7, plus hit all six of her free throws.

“Sydney Williams had a huge game,” said USD head coach Cindy Fisher. “She just wanted the ball.”

Teammates supplied Williams with plenty of help. Aubrey Ward-El scored 16 points. Myah Pace played all 40 minutes and scored 10 points. Caroline Buhr scored eight points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Maya Hood’s line: eight points, nine boards.



Williams, Ward-El and Hood are all seniors, wanting desperately to become the first USD women’s team since 2008 to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

“At this time of year, you go as far as your seniors will take you,” said Fisher. “This has been their goal forever. It’s been Maya’s goal for six years. (Hood redshirted one season then was granted a medical redshirt last year.)

“When you have that kind of leadership, those people are hungry. That’s what makes this really special, when the seniors still want it. Right now, all of them feel like, ‘We got to this point, let’s finish it.’”

Reminded that the Toreros were one victory away from the Big Dance, Ward-El said, “Is that crazy? It’s something I’ve never experienced. It’s kind of surreal right now. We don’t have much time to be in awe or shocked. We have to play in less than 24 hours. It feels so crazy. All the work we’ve put in. We’re here. We’re doing it.”

Pacific had beaten the Toreros in both regular-season meetings, but in the conference semis USD clearly was the better team. The Toreros never trailed. They led by 10 early in the second quarter and although the Tigers (15-17) sliced the lead to one by halftime, USD did not falter.

“We knew we needed to amp up our energy at that point,” said Ward-El. “We were 20 minutes away form a championship game.”

Fisher wasn’t fretting at the break.

“I was really confident,” said Fisher, now in her 13th year at the Toreros’ helm.

One of the things Fisher stressed at halftime was for USD to pound the offensive glass. Ask and the coach received. USD owned the glass, outrebounding the Tigers 50-28. Second-chance points: 25-7 in favor of the Toreros.

Now comes Gonzaga. The Zags won both regular-season meetings, 63-44 at Jenny Craig Pavilion and 58-54 on the last week of the regular season. The 58 points were the fourth fewest Gonzaga scored all season.

“I think we have real good momentum going into this game,” said Williams.

Offered Ward-El, “Oh, we’re so excited to get them.”

The Zags travel well and Orleans Arena figures to be a sea of red, but that doesn’t concern Ward-El.

“We have to act like all those fans are cheering for us,” she said.

Fisher is more than willing to take her chances.

“Our players are confident,” said the head coach. “At this point, they feel like they can play with anyone.”

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