The Dons cut a Santa Clara 19-point second half lead down to two but were unable to finish off the deal.
Marc Trasolini grabbed a critical offensive rebound with less than a minute to go and put it back in to give them a four-point lead and enough of a cushion for the 74-69 win in the West Coast Conference opener Wednesday night.
“At the end of the day we’re worried about being 1-0 every night,” Trasolini said. “Teams are going to make runs on us. We got to continue to trust what we do and play defense and we’ll be on it next game.”
It is Santa Clara’s first conference win since the 2011 and snaps a three-game losing streak to San Francisco (7-7, 0-1 WCC) at the Leavey Center.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game all year, getting started with conference,” Trasolini said. “Our goal all year has been to win conference and we’re one step closer to that being 1-0.”
Santa Clara (13-2, 1-0) faces No. 10 Gonzaga on Saturday at 5 p.m.
The Broncos opened the second half with back-to-back threes from Raymond Cowels III and Evan Roquemore gave the Broncos a 17-point lead within the first minute of the second half.
USF closed the gap after Santa Clara went more than seven minutes without a field goal, allowing the Dons to go on an 11-2 run and cut the lead to 61-55.
“We played really hard,” USF head coach Rex Walters said. “Our attention to detail and following game plan was much better and that’s when you get to see their talent and ability.”
“We’re one unit, one team, one heartbeat but when you don’t we become very average. We can’t have average minutes like that. We can’t come out in the second half and give up five unanswered points.”
USF cut the lead to two with 31 seconds left on a layup by Doolin but the Dons were forced to foul and free throws iced the game.
“It could have been a lot easier and that’s a learning experience,” Santa Clara head coach Kerry Keating said. “But the fact of the matter, we were up by 19…This league is as deep as it’s ever been.”
Santa Clara had four players in double figures, led by Kevin Foster with 21. Trasolini recorded his third double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
San Francisco hosts BYU on Saturday at 7 p.m.
San Francisco was sloppy early on, fell behind 10-4 on four turnovers and missing six of their first eight shots.
Santa Clara cooled off and allowed the Dons to climb back into it. San Francisco tied the game with 10:02 left in the half on a three by Mark Tollefsen and took the lead the following possession on a three from Avry Holmes.
After a floater from Cole Dickerson put San Francisco up 23-20, Santa Clara called time and made some changes, most notably reinserting Foster.
Santa Clara came out of the timeout on fire and went on a 12-0 run, which included threes from Foster and Raymond Cowels III.
Foster had nine points in the first half, all on threes.
The Broncos took advantage of the Dons’ first half turnovers by scoring 12 points of the nine miscues.
Focus of Foster
Foster is no secret around the country. He is in the same conversation with Steve Nash and Kurt Rambis in Santa Clara history.
But Trasolini said Foster’s passing is something had has been overlooked.
“People know about Kevin’s shooting but they don’t really know about his passing,” Trasolini said. “He’s one of the best passers in the conference. That’s a tribute to him.”
Foster is averaging 4.5 assists this season.
Roquemore off bench
Evan Roquemore did not start the game after reporting late for a treatment on his foot. The junior guard entered the game with 15 minutes left in the first half.
He scored 12 points and had eight assists off the bench.
Brandon Clark started in his place.
Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @Zack_Farmer