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USF holds on to move into third-place in WC

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WAR MEMORIAL GYM ­— USF head coach Kyle Smith maintained good spirits even after his team nearly squandered a 20-point halftime lead.

Simply because, “Winning is hard,” as the first-year head coach said.

And advantageous as San Francisco squeaked by Santa Clara, 61-58, which, coupled with BYU’s loss to Pepperdine, puts the Dons into a tie for third place in the West Coast Conference.

Smith and the Dons were focused beat Santa Clara, which handed them an ugly 72-58 loss on New Year’s Eve.

“We don’t have a lot of local guys who played this game, so they don’t really know what it means,” Smith said. “I think they got a taste of it tonight.”

It looked like it would be more of a cakewalk than a nailbiter as the host Dons stretched the lead to 44-19 with 1:24 left in the opening half. Frankie Ferrari led all San Francisco scorers in the first half with nine points, connecting on all three of his 3-point attempts.

The second half was a completely different story. Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge, who entered the game averaging 18.2 points per game, was held to one first-half point, before getting free in the second half and finishing with 15 points.

K.J. Feagin, who finished with 26 points, scored the final 10 points for Santa Clara (13-13, 7-6). His fifth and final 3-pointer cut the lead to 59-58 with 1:14 remaining.

But, Chase Foster hit a turnaround shot in the lane to put San Francisco (18-8, 8-5) up 61-58 with 42.8 seconds left. USF wasted two chances to put the game away at the line, but Brownridge’s long-distance attempt to tie the game in the final moments was off the mark, and the host Dons survived.

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