As San Francisco fans danced around their NCAA-bound players at midcourt, they summed up their celebration in two words:"We're back!"
Sixteen years after their last NCAA tournament appearance, the Dons clinched a spot in the 64-team field by defeating Gonzaga 80-67 on Monday night to win the West Coast Conference tournament.
Freshman Ra'oof Sadat had a career-high 18 points, including four jumpers as part of an 11-0 run early in the second half that broke a tie and gave the Dons (19-10) a lead they never relinquished.
"This was a great win for us, for the city, for the program and for the university," San Francisco coach Philip Mathews said."San Francisco has a history of being to the NCAA tournament, but we haven't been since 1982. We're going back to the NCAAs, where we belong."
Sadat got plenty of playing time with Hakeem Ward on the bench because of foul trouble.
"I always think anything is possible," Sadat said. "I know what I'm capable of doing. It's not about minutes. It's about what I can do for this family."
M.J. Nodilo added 16 points for San Francisco, which has won six straight games.
Matt Santangelo had 18 points to lead Gonzaga (23-9), which won the conference's regular-season title and had defeated San Francisco twice this season.
But Bakari Hendrix, who led the WCC with 20 points per game, was held to 13 points for the Bulldogs. And Gonzaga was outrebounded 41-30.
"They beat us in pretty much every facet of the game. Their defense controlled the game, especially rebounding," Gonzaga coach Dan Monson said."They disrupted us offensively and we never got into a good rhythm."
San Francisco's last NCAA tournament appearance was short, with a 70-66 first-round loss to Boston College. The school dropped its basketball program the next three seasons amid allegations of recruiting violations.
San Francisco, which had never won the WCC tournament, used its quickness and tenacious defense to overcome a height disadvantage against the Bulldogs.
Since Mathews took over as coach three seasons ago, San Francisco is 44-10 when it holds opponents to 70 points or less. When an opponent scores more than 70 points, the Dons are 6-24.
San Franciso had lost four of five games late in the season when Mathews unloaded verbally on his players in what he called "an explosive meeting" before a game against Loyola Marymount.
"I asked, `How many of you guys have lost consistently?' And none of them raised their hands," Mathews said."I challenged them and made some lineup changes and we haven't lost since."
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.