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San Francisco Dons down No. 4 Virginia

Timely shooting and runs propel the Dons to the year’s first major top 25 upset

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs San Francisco Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Look, we can hardly call this an upset. The San Francisco Dons have two national championships (1955, 1956). The Virginia Cavaliers have one (2019). Plus, San Francisco is full of a roster with guys who have been consistently squaring off against some of the best competition in the entire country as they have to take on national powerhouses like current No. 1 Gonzaga and St. Mary’s twice a year in WCC play.

Virginia on the other hand get softballs like North Carolina during ACC play.

However, if you are someone who fails to recognize the importance of history, and went solely based off some present, socially constructed Associated Press rankings, you probably would have expected San Francisco to lose this one since they are what we in the biz call “unranked”. Meanwhile Virginia was feeling high and mighty as the fourth best in the nation. Additionally, today’s game marked the Dons third game in three days.

Given the circumstances, no one would have really noticed if the Cavaliers had came into this game and taken care of business. And early on, it looked like that was what was going to happen. All signs pointed towards a Virginia-led shellacking as the Cavaliers opened the game on a 7-0 run and held the Dons to just three points in the first seven minutes.

All signs pointed to another day in the grit and grind office for Tony Bennett and company.

Down 11-3 the Dons were battling for any OK look they could get when guard Jamaree Bouyea drove to his left and blew past Khalil Clark got a pretty looking layup to fall from a weird angle. Virginia responded with getting Clark to the free throw line, where the 86% career free-throw shooter bricked both his opportunities from the line.

San Francisco pushed it down the floor only to be met by a suffocating Cavs defense that stifled every move the Dons could come up with in the half court. Well every move except for one.

Luckily the bank is in fact open on Black Friday (because it’s not a national holiday you dinguses and there is a pandemic so crowds aren’t a good idea) and Bouyea banked in the deep 3 from atop the key as the shot clock expired. Oh yeah. It’s all coming together.

In a theme that would wind up being critical to the Dons victory today in Bubbleville, the Dons hit three consecutive 3s in what was ultimately a 13-2 run to take the lead. The two schools exchanged great defensive possessions and occasional jumpers to kill said great defensive possessions. Despite some mental errors leading to nine first-half turnovers, Virginia managed to regroup despite some and take a 24-21 point lead into the half.

With both teams shooting poorly in the first half, it felt like Virginia was going to put it together in the second half. And it opened up that way as the Cavs came out hot in the second half (by this game standards mind you) and increased the lead with back to back buckets in the first minute. Once again, it seems as though Virginia will take care of business. But alas, here we are.

Josh Kunen got things going for the Dons in the second half with a 3-pointer to spark another big run for San Francisco. Virginia’s Casey Morsell tried to force his way into the middle of the key, but Damari Milstead swiped the ball from his pocket and dished it to Khalil Shabazz who threw an absolute full-court dart in transition to a streaking Bouyea who laid the ball in for two points. The Dons then came up big once again on defense as Dzmitry Ryuny blocked a Virginia 3-point attempt then ran down the floor to nail a trey of his own in transition to take the lead.

The game went back and forth with the Dons routinely hitting from deep to stay alive and kept themselves in it against a tough Virginia defense. With about three minutes left, the Dons came out the timeout down one.

Bouyea cut inside on a set give and go to lay the ball in and take the lead. The Dons would never look back from there going on an 8-0 run in crunch time highlighted by back-to-back 3s by Shabazz and Taavi Jurkatamm. Virginia staged a mini comeback in the final minute, but came up short as the game-winning 3 clanged off the rim at the buzzer.

San Francisco finished the game with thirteen made 3-pointers, meaning nearly 64% of the team’s points came from behind the arc (next-gen stats baby). You can call this luck, but I call this clutch and timely playing from a talented team. This wasn’t just a series of random runs and mirages of threes, this was a team responding to adversity and stepping up and making plays on both sides of the court when they needed to.