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.”
Baseball: Toreros vs. Aztecs
USD take on cross-town rival SDSU
Men's Basketball: Post Season Run
USD vs. Hartford highlights
Women's Basketball: WCC Championship Game
Toreros end the 2018 season against Gonzaga in the WCC finals.
Women's Basketball: WCC Semifinals
Women's win send them to the championship game
Men's Basketball: WCC Quarterfinals
Toreros close out 2018 season against BYU
Men's Basketball: "Off Day"
Toreros prepare for the WCC quarterfinals against BYU
Women's Basketball: WCC Quarterfinal Highlights
USD defeats BYU in quarterfinal of WCC Tournament
Women's Basketball: Day in the Life with Myah Pace
Freshman guard knows how to prep for a win
Women's Basketball: Vegas Bound
Toreros travel to Vegas for the WCC Tournament
Baseball: Defeating No. 4 Arkansas
Toreros edge out top five team
Men's Basketball: Rock the House
Toreros played No. 6 Gonzaga in a fight to the last minute
Men's Basketball: Day in the Life
Guard Olin Carter III knows the games starts long before tip-off
Rowing, tennis, basketball and baseball, a winning day in the books
Baseball: For the Love of the Game
Baseball celebrates 60 years
Women's Basketball: Women in Sports Day
Julie Foudy spoke to student-athletes and guests for National Women in Sports Day
Men's Basketball: At LMU
Men's basketball on the road
Women's Rowing: Day in the Life
Senior Lizzie Bader shows how three-a-day practices are done
Men's Basketball: Youth Basketball Clinic
Toreros lead clinic in local community
Men's Rowing: Winter Camp 2018
There are plenty perks to being the early bird
60 Years of USD Baseball
Milestones on the road to Omaha
USD Honors Local Military Members
Toreros showed their support and hosted local military members at the men's basketball game
USD Athletes Sing "Santa's Coming to Town"
Toreros show their talent out of uniform
Basketball: City Championship
Toreros play SDSU Thursday night at 8
Football: Week Fourteen
Football preps for second round of playoffs at NDSU
Football: NAU From the Sidelines
Toreros win in first round of playoffs at NAU
Football: Week Thirteen
Football travels to NAU for the first round of the FCS Playoffs
A day to give to Torero Athletics
Football: Week Twelve
Toreros gear up for last game of conference play
Football: Week Eleven
Toreros prep for game day
Torero Timeout with Summer Mason
USD junior women's soccer player takes a timeout during a study break
On Saturday We Dominate
Big wins for both USD Football and USD Volleyball Saturday afternoon
Torero Timeout with Henry Lander
Men's soccer sophomore Henry Lander takes a Timeout between classes
Football: Week Ten
Toreros gear up for home game against Drake
Men's and women's basketball teamed up to host a Halloween event
Football: Week Nine
Big day in the weight room for the Toreros
Seamus McFadden's Legacy
39 years in review by former players and coaches
Alumni, staff and the San Diego community gathered to celebrate Men's Soccer Head Coach Seamus McFadden
Sixth Man Night: The Event
Recap video of the October 12 fundraiser event
Women's Basketball: WCC Hoops Tip-Off
Coach Fisher and Maya Hood attend media day in Las Vegas
Men's Basketball: New Heights
Men's basketball celebrates the third era of the program
Alumni and family gathered together for an eventful Homecoming weekend
Torero Timeout with Kristen Gengenbacher
Take a Timeout with the senior setter at her house in South Mission Beach
Football: Week Seven
Football preps for this Saturday's Homecoming game
Torero Timeout with Jonathan Petersen
USD Football's Petersen strolls through Belmont Park during his bye week
USD Basketball: Practice No. 1
Check out what practice looks like for the Torero ballers
Football: Week Five
Toreros prep for big game against Dayton
Football: FaceTime with Lion's Jamal Agnew
USD Head Coach Dale Lindsey congratulates Torero alum Agnew on his first NFL touchdown
Football: Brian Fogarty PFL Classic
From tailgates to touchdowns, we got it all
Football: Week Four
Hard work follows these Toreros on and off the field
Cross Country: USD Invite
Missed Saturday's race? Don't stress, we have it right here
Football: Week Three
Sights and sounds of USD Football at work
USD Invite: Take a Lap
Men's and women's cross country host the USD Invite: the only home race for the Toreros
Football: Week Two
Football hard at work for their first away game at UC Davis
Three Games - One Day
Ole Weekend was one to remember for USD Athletics
Football: Week One
Toreros preps for their home opener against Western New Mexico
2017 Football Season Preview
Head Coach Dale Lindsey and Senior Ray Clark discuss upcoming season
USD Athletics Highlight Video 2016-17
Don't miss the best highlights from this past year in USD Athletics