SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The University of San Francisco has not been a great 3-point shooting team this season. The Dons were just 180th in the NCAA with a 34.3-percent mark coming into Saturday’s game against UC Santa Barbara.
They aren’t as bad as they were against the Gauchos. In the midst of their second-worst shooting night of the year, with 3-point sniper Jordan Ratinho in foul trouble, San Francisco went just 5-of-23 from beyond the 3-point arc, and appropriately enough, it was a pair of back-to-back triples with a minute left that proved to be their undoing.
Uncontested pull-up threes from Devearl Ramsey and JaQuori McLaughlin gave the Gauchos the kind of breathing room neither team had enjoyed since San Francisco sprinted out to a 10-point lead in the first half, and all but sealed a 73-71 loss for the Dons — just their second of the season.
“Coach said it felt like a road conference game, and you can’t come out and not defend like we did and expect to win,” said senior point guard Frankie Ferrari, who finished with 14 points, just two assists and four fouls.
The loss for San Francisco was its first since losing in Belfast, Northern Ireland to No. 21 Buffalo on Dec. 1, and came in the Dons’ final non-conference game, their last chance to score some out-of-conference credibility, despite UCSB not having star scorer Max Heidegger (knee).
“It would have been good momentum going into league, and we’d feel good about ourselves, but we’ve got to get back to work,” said head coach Kyle Smith. “If we’d won shooting like we did, we’d feel great about ourselves. It’s concerning. It’s tough. We’ll be alright. We have to keep fighting.”
San Francisco (12-2) had opportunities, finishing the game with 17 offensive rebounds and six team blocks, but the Dons shot a dismal 22-of-61 from the field, their worst shooting performance since shooting 32.3 percent against Harvard.
“Shooting was brutal,” Smith said. “It was brutal. Credit to them, their defense was good.”
San Francisco, despite decidedly un-crisp play, rode a hot 12-of-19 shooting start to a 10-point lead, but a 7-0 run late in the half by Santa Barbara (10-3) got the Gauchos to within three, and the Dons never quite looked the same.
Foul trouble for both Ferrari (3) and Ratinho (2) sapped much of the Dons’ offensive dynamism in the first half, and the only thing holding San Francisco above water was rebounding, as the Dons out-paced UCSB 21-14 overall and 11-3 on the offensive glass before halftime.
San Francisco left points at the free throw line — going 11-of-19 while UCSB went 10-of-12 in the first half — and could find no answer defensively for 6-foot-9 Amadou Sow, whose athleticism, power and quickness baffled Jimbo Lull and Matt McCarthy down low. Sow hit eight of his first 10 shots for 18 first-half points, and it was because of Sow’s ability to answer empty Dons possessions late in the first half — San Francisco had a stretch of 0-for-5 from the field and 2-for-5 from the free throw line — that briefly gave the Gauchos the lead in the final minute before the break.
“The big guy was getting whatever he wanted,” Ferrari said. “We really didn’t identify shooters late, and McLaughlin had two or three threes that hurt us. We were hurt at the free throw line, but if you don’t defend on the road, you can’t win.”
The Dons went without a made field goal for the final 4:20 of the first half, and went 1-of-11 over the last eight minutes before the break, but still took a 39-38 lead into the locker room.
“We were battling foul trouble with Jordan and Frankie, and that’s going to happen sometimes, so we need to play better than that,” Smith said. “We still went into halftime with a one-point lead on the road, which is good, and I’ll take that. They’re good. But, we had opportunities that second half. We needed stops. We just weren’t good defensively.”
San Francisco had even less rhythm over the first four minutes of the second half, quickly falling down by five as the Gauchos went on an 8-2 run. Only a Jamaree Bouyea three — the third in 14 attempts by the Dons — stopped the bleeding, and even then, not for long. A visibly frustrated Smith watched as his team hit just two of its first 11 shots out of the break, and allowed UCSB to go 6-of-13 over the first 9:10.
After a 3-point jumper by Charles Minlend (19 points on 5-of-12 shooting), a steal by Bouyea, a lay-up by McCarthy (13 points, 10 rebounds) and a block by Renfro that led to a pair of Minlend free throw makes, the Dons re-took the lead, 52-50 at 12:24. No team would lead by more than three for the next 11 minutes, until with 1:48, Ramsey made his three, and 41 seconds later, McLaughlin hit his to give the Gauchos a four-point advantage.
“They had a bunch of talented wings, and we knew that, just knowing personnel, we struggled with it, and in an environment like this, it’s hard,” Ferrari said. “That’s what good teams do. They come in and take care of business at home.”
The Dons have not been known as a particularly good free throw shooting team, hitting 64.6 percent of their shots at the line this season, and they proved that out again on Saturday, going 22-of-33 at the line. That, though, was bolstered by a 6-for-6 mark in the final 2:14 as the two teams traded fouls. Even then, with 4.9 seconds left, down by just two, the Dons had their chances.
San Francisco failed to box out on a missed Ramsey free throw, instead allowing Sekou Toure to grab an offensive rebound, which led to a foul by McCarthy.
Toure missed both of his free throws, but again, the Dons failed to box out, and allowed Toure to grab his own rebound, effectively ending the game.
“They tried to give us an opportunity at the end, and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Smith said. “We did some good things in there, but gosh dang, got to get a rebound on the missed free throw. We’d got 4.9 seconds, down two, they can’t foul, I’m mad, because we had a chance to win or overtime. We get that rebound, we go, they’re going to be on their heels, and we have a chance to shoot, and we didn’t.”