No. 5 San Francisco (7-9) vs. No. 9 Loyola Marymount (1-15)
Season series: USF won 2-0
Game time: 6 p.m.
San Francisco finds itself in the same position it was in a year ago. The Dons are one win away from the WCC quarterfinals and this is after losing nine players from last year’s squad. The two games against LMU were decided by a combined 11 points.
This should be an absolute fight with two teams that met in last year’s tournament. The only difference is this time LMU is the one with momentum going into the game.
The winner will face No. 4 Santa Clara.
Probable starters: Anthony Ireland, Godwin Okonji, Ashley Hamilton, Alex Osborne, Taylor Walker
The Lions played one its better games of the year against Portland and that tone was set from the opening tip. Ashley Hamilton hit his first shot from the top of the key and the Lions played with a confidence that seemed to be lacking to this stage.
Even better news for LMU was the help Anthony Ireland received. The Lions led at halftime and they had three different players score more than the All-WCC First Teamer.
They were also opportunistic as LMU scored 22 points off turnovers.
With San Francisco later today, the Lions have little time to rest. The Lions will need a similar performance from Ashley Hamilton, who had a game-high 21 points, and be just as active on defense. LMU had 14 steals against Portland.
Probable starters: Cody Doolin, Chris Adams, De’End Parker, Cole Dickerson, Mark Tollefsen
The Dons are playing about as well as they were very early in the preseason and raced to the fifth seed in the WCC Tournament. Since that 0-5 start to league play, USF has gone 7-4 including a win at BYU.
“We lost 75 percent of our scoring,” USF head coach Rex Walters said. “These guys stuck together. It’s a great testament to them.”
San Francisco also played well in a must-win game last week against San Diego, which gave it that 5-seed.
Part of that turnaround has been the maturation of the young players for USF. This is a team with seven underclassmen in the rotation and no seniors.
“When you’re freshman, it’s hard,” Walters said. “We’re throwing them to the fire and it’s not easy and they’ve responded. They’ve had some ups and downs but to do that with nine first-year players… It’s a great testament to them. They worked hard and stuck with it.”
One of those young players is Mark Tollefsen, who has started the last three games and has taken full advantage of the opportunity. The redshirt freshman is averaging 16 points per game in that stretch.
“With Mark out there, we’ve got five guys you absolutely have to guard,” Walters said. “He’s really efficient. He presents problems because of his length, he can give guys problems. He also gives us a little more shot blocking. We’re hard to guard with him out there.”
San Francisco is 3-0 with Tollefsen in the starting lineup.
Predicted winner: San Francisco