Ronnie Boyce, shown playing against Santa Clara, led the Dons with 19 points on Jan. 7 against Saint Mary's. (Courtesy USF Athletics)

Ronnie Boyce, shown playing against Santa Clara, led the Dons with 19 points on Jan. 7 against Saint Mary's. (Courtesy USF Athletics)

Dons hang tough, but fall 63-52 to Saint Mary’s

WAR MEMORIAL GYM — Not a single member of the University of San Francisco basketball team had been born the last time the Dons had a week that was as challenging as the one the squad just completed.

After losing to No. 5 Gonzaga on Thursday on the Hilltop, the Dons fell 63-52 against No. 19 Saint Mary’s on Saturday night at the War Memorial Gym.

The two-game stretch against the West Coast Conference giants marked the first time since the 1993-94 season that the Dons have run into AP-ranked opponents in back-to-back games.

“We had some what I call ‘fake pats on the back’ after Gonzaga,” head coach Kyle Smith said with a chuckle. “I didn’t really feel that we played that well.”

“We couldn’t stop them. We did some nice things offensively, but you have to be able to compete at that level. You’ve got to be able to defend people and rebound, but we were more competitive and defended better [against Saint Mary’s]. We’re young and knowing that you can compete against those teams and trying to beat them … these are two very polished programs that are doing really well.”

The loss leaves the Dons at 11-6 overall and drops the team to 1-3 in WCC play, losers of three in a row. In the defeat, junior Ronnie Boyce led the Dons with 19 points, going 8-for-17 from the field.

While the loss to their East Bay neighbors continues an ongoing trend of Gaels’ domination of the Dons — Saint Mary’s has won 22 of the last 24 meetings between the schools — the matchup was closer than the final scoreline indicated.

“I thought it was a hard fought game for us and we competed really well for about 34 minutes of the game,” Smith said. “We had opportunities and just down the stretch they kind of broke our back.”

The teams traded leads back and forth throughout much of the night and the Dons trailed by 4, 51-47, with just over seven minutes left on the clock. That’s when the Gaels hit corner 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and finally separated from their hosts.

“Some of our deal is attrition,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said of his team’s knack for slowly wearing down the opposition.

“We hit a couple of threes and we stretched it from a four-point game to a 10-point like that,” Bennett added with a snap.

Afterward, Bennett admitted that he didn’t much enjoy taking down Smith, his former longtime assistant in Moraga.

“I don’t really like it,” Bennett said of facing his friend. “It is what it is. We’re both fortunate to be doing what we’re doing for a living, so this is a small price to pay to be in the situation we’re in.”College Sportssaint mary'sthe donsUniversity of San FranciscoWest Coast Conference

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