The conference victory earned the Toreros an automatic berth at the big dance in the NCAA tournament among the top 64 teams in the country. They were still playing when everyone else in the WCC went home. But the reality is, only one team goes home undefeated.
On March 22, the No. 14 seed USD team took their post-season hopes to Stanford University for the NCAA regionals where they met the No. 3 seed UC Berkeley Golden Bears. The No. 2 squad in the PAC 10 gave the Toreros an introduction to a much more physical form of women's basketball.
Cal took charge early and contained the Torero offense for a 77-60 win.
"I told the team I was proud of them "” they took the program to another level," said third-year head coach Cindy Fisher. "Cal had a strong inside presence and took out our defense. Cal was a different level for us."
The difference was size. The Bears brought three women who were 6-1 to 6-3 and at least 220 pounds who made a habit of driving to the basket like a freight train. The collisions often looked like ice hockey matchup "” a lot of players knocked off their feet. Torero defenders drew two charging calls. The rest of the time they were called for fouls while trying to hold their ground.
USD center and leading scorer Amber Sprague got in foul trouble early and played just 21 minutes. She was only able to contribute 6 points.
Point guard Amanda Rego had her normal 8 assists but was also thrown off her game by an aggressive Cal defense.
"They went right after Amber. She's just not used to that kind of physical play," Fisher said. "We got into a better flow in the second half. But we weren't able to gain that ground back."
The younger players stepped up and filled in for USD. Freshman Sam Child led the scoring with 14, followed by 13 from sophomore Morgan Henderson and 12 from freshman Brianna Estell.
"I told everyone to keep their heads up. We've taken a large step "” be proud," Fisher said. "The ladies get a break now, for a month. Then, it's back to the gym in mid-April. Now they know what size they need to work for."
Sprague sat out a year with a foot injury as a red shirt. But for Mission Bay High teammate Rego, this was her senior year and last game in a Torero uniform.
"I haven't made calls and definite plans yet, but after I graduate I'd like to play overseas, perhaps Italy," Rego said. "I think the highlight of my career was winning the (WCC) conference championship. But I have enjoyed every minute at USD."
The USD women hadn't made it to the NCAA tournament since 2000. Rego is one of only two seniors on the team. So the growth of the players this season is expected to keep them very competitive next year.
The WCC is made up of USD, University of San Francisco, University of Portland, St Mary's, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Gonzaga.
USD basketball information is available at www.usdtoreros.cstv.com or www.wccsports.cstv.com.