WAR MEMORIAL GYM — Seemingly headed for a resounding win over Utah Valley, the University of San Francisco avoided a near collapse on Monday night, claiming a 78-73 win to secure a spot in the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational.
On a night when the Dons kept their season alive, a sophomore guard wrote his name in the record books and the club hit the 20-win plateau for the second consecutive season, here’s what you need to know …
The Dons were coasting toward a rout before almost cratering in epic fashion. With 9:26 to go, Chase Foster drilled a 3-pointer, one of his four triples against the Wolverines, and the Dons’ lead ballooned to 64-42.
Then the wheels fell off. Utah Valley produced a 21-1 run, pulling to within two points, 65-63, at the 3:53 mark. That’s when Frankie Ferrari sank 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, stabilizing the Dons and shifting the momentum back into the host’s favor.
“He’s made a lot of big shots for us,” head coach Kyle Smith of the point guard who made just one other bucket but dished out 11 assists.
Jordan Ratinho took care of the scoring on the way to setting a school record. The former De La Salle star scored 20 points — tied with Foster for the team high — and set the Dons’ single season record for 3-points (77) in the process. Ratinho was 5-for-9 from beyond the arc.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it during the game,” Ratinho said. “Somebody told me before the game, actually. So, I thought about it before the game, but once the game started, I was just kind of playing. I didn’t really notice it until they announced it over the speakers. That was kind of cool.”
Jimbo Lull was the X-factor off the bench. Smith leaned heavily on Jimbo Lull with Akolda Manyang, his fellow 7-footer, patrolling the paint for Utah Valley.
Lull helped contain Manyang — as best as possible. The Wolverine center went for 10 points and 11 rebounds while recording a pair of blocks, the second of which landed in the front-row of the seats in the closing minutes.
On the ensuing possession, Lull delivered a block of his own, effectively sealing the win, with the Dons clinging to a 74-71 lead.
“That guy’s big,” Smith said with a laugh when asked why Lull was such an important factor against Manyang. “Jimbo’s been coming on all year. I’m really proud of him because he easily — easily — could have hung his head, felt sorry for himself and he didn’t. As a coach, you like to see guys do that.”
Playing 24 minutes, Lull had 15 points (7-for-8 from the field), five rebounds, one steal and the aforementioned block.
“I feel like he’s turned a corner as far as feeling confident and competing,” Smith added.
Even with the late blip, the Dons should be feeling confident after beating the best team in the tournament. Based on RPI, the Wolverines (No. 81), were the most formidable team in the CBI. Smith compared the Dons’ opponent to the second and third teams, respectively, in the West Coast Conference.
“To me, they’re very similar to Saint Mary’s and BYU,” Smith said. “Obviously, Saint Mary’s is probably a little better, just more experience.”
For much of the night, it looked like USF was going to hammer Utah Valley. That should leave the Dons feeling good as the team hosts the Campbell Fighting Camels on Thursday night at War Memorial.
“It’s a lot of fun being able to survive and advance and keep playing when all these other teams are at home just watching the tournament,” Ratinho said. “Getting a CBI championship would be pretty exciting. That would be great for our program.”