Dons look forward to WCC play

With their game Saturday against San Diego, 2 p.m. at War Memorial Gym, the USF women’s basketball team open West Coast Conference play with a chance to prove its best win of last season was no accident.

“I’m sure they’ve had this game circled,” said Dons head coach Tanya Haave.

USF had won just three conference games to that point in 2007, but beat the second-seeded Toreros in San Diego, 80-69, in the first round of the WCC tournament. The win helped set an auspicious tone for this season, when the Dons, picked to finish sixth in the WCC by conference coaches, opened a surprising 9-6 — including six straight wins reeled off in December.

Now, on the perch of league play, USF finds itself right in the mix thanks to superior scoring from senior Dominique Carter, the WCC Player of the Month for December. The three-time All-WCC performer averages 21 points a game, helping the team up its scoring total from 58.6 points a game last year to 72.5 in 2007-08.

Add to that the difficulties experienced by top contenders Gonzaga (9-6) and Pepperdine (5-8), and the Dons hope to capitalize on a rare opportunity for upward mobility.

“From top to bottom it’s a pretty wide open race,” Haave said. “We got a lot of momentum with the six-game win streak. They really are starting to feel and believe that they can compete in this conference.”

Haave said freshmen Donnisha Taylor and Jordan Kuzma were beginning to learn the system and tempo of play, and expected them to come off the bench as an extra asset late in the season.

In addition to her scoring, Carter leads the Dons in rebounding, pulling down more than seven a game. She is joined on the front line by 6-foot-2 center Lisa Olden, with

17 blocks through 15 games, and junior transfer Necolia Simmons.

Simmons was a junior college All-American last year at San Joaquin Delta, and contributed another 10 points and seven rebounds for USF mostly coming off the bench in the early season.

The Dons returned from an early road trip to Colorado with an upset win over Colorado State, then won road games at Cal State-Fullerton and Oregon State before a lengthy homestand sparked the six-game streak. Despite a Dec. 30 loss at Nevada, USF’s poorest offensive output of the year with just 44 points, Haave said her team has impressed her most this year by its adjustments for away games.

“I think we’ve become a much better road team,” Haave said. “The improvement of how we play on the road this year as opposed to this year has been tremendous, and that can only prepare uscome tournament time.”

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