USF basketball makes it to the NCAA tournament

‘We made history. That’s something that I’ll be super proud of for the rest of my life.’

The University of San Francisco men’s basketball team punched their ticket to the NCAA basketball tournament Sunday afternoon, marking their first return to March Madness since 1998.

Placed in the East region, the No. 10 seed Dons will face No. 7 Murray State on Thursday in Indianapolis. The game will be televised on CBS at 6:40 p.m.

“It’s one thing to kind of strive for, it’s another thing to actually accomplish it and we made history. That’s something that I’ll be super proud of for the rest of my life,” said head coach Todd Golden.

USF began the season 10-0, their best start since they earned 26 straight wins in the 1976-77 season. Finishing the season at 24-9, the Dons posted their best record since the 1981-82 campaign. This is the first time in 20 years that a West Coast Conference team not named Gonzaga, Brigham Young University or Saint Mary’s has gotten an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

The Dons were projected to play in the tournament, but Sunday’s festivities made their status official. “We’re definitely happy to be here but we want to be in the tournament to win games, as well,” said Jamaree Bouyea, a team-leading guard who returned to the program for his fifth and final season. “I don’t think this is the end of our journey…going into this tournament, we want to win games as much as possible.”

Supporters by the hundreds flocked to War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center for the Dons’ “Selection Sunday” watch party. Clad in green and gold, fans held their breath as the selection committee ran through the first three regions before picking USF as one of the tournament’s last three teams.

Fans celebrate as the selection committee announces that USF will be playing in the March Madness tournament. <em>(James Salazar/SF Examiner) </em>

Fans celebrate as the selection committee announces that USF will be playing in the March Madness tournament. (James Salazar/SF Examiner)

“It was definitely nerve-racking, for sure,” said senior guard Khalil Shabazz. “We were all up there sweating and all that stuff but I wouldn’t want it to happen any other way. Just coming right at the end, it makes our story so much better.”

In their heyday, the Dons were a college basketball powerhouse. Former coach Pete Newell led the program to the 1949 National Invitation Tournament title and his successor, Phill Woopert, led the team to consecutive national championships in 1955 and 1956 with a squad that featured Oakland native, and future NBA legend, Bill Russell. In later years, Bill Cartwright, another USF legend in his own right, led the team to the first round in 1977 and to the Sweet Sixteen in 1978 and 1979.

Golden took over as head coach in 2019 and has posted winning records in his three seasons at the helm. USF’s postseason push could signal the start of a new chapter for the Dons. “As the years go on at USF, this program will be a better program since the way we left it. With it in (Coach Golden’s) hands, I think the sky’s the limit,” said Bouyea.

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