When more than half of a basketball team is made up of freshmen, most coaches and fans are less concerned with winning conference championships and more concerned with winning games.
But USF men’s basketball coach Rex Walters knows that the opponents don’t care how much, or little, experience the Dons have. When it comes down to it, neither does Walters.
“They don’t care how many freshmen are on our roster,” Walters said. “The approach we have is what can we do to get them [the freshmen] better, getting our game right as a team and not think about it in terms of wins and losses.”
The Dons have been taking care of the wins department in the West Coast Conference this year, sitting alone in second place with a 6-2 record (12-11 overall), the Dons’ best start since 1981 and only 1½ games back of first-place St. Mary’s.
San Francisco could catch St. Mary’s in the standings as early as this weekend. The Dons host lowly San Diego (1-8 WCC, 5-19) on Thursday before hosting the Gaels (8-1, 20-4) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“We have a lot of work left,” said Walters, who isn’t about to look too far ahead in the schedule just yet. “Every team is dangerous on any given night.”
The secret to the Dons’ success this year after a 7-7 mark last year in the WCC has been an emphasis on defense.
“I finally decided to listen to my assistants this year,” Walters quipped. “They kept telling me that defense wins games. Our offense is pretty simple. We just need to stay focused, take care of the ball when we have it and limit the other team to one shot each possession.”
And Walters has a very simple rule when it comes to playing time for his young team, which fields just one senior and three juniors.
“If you do things right, you play,” Walters said. “If you don’t, you sit next to me.”
Walters doesn’t take offense that none of his players want to sit next to him during the game. And for the most part, they haven’t had to.
Junior guard Rashad Green was just named the WCC Player of the Week, in part for his efforts to lead USF to a 68-62 win over Santa Clara.
“Rashad is playing the best basketball right now,” Walters said. “But you’re not going to see a ‘star system’ here. They’ve all bought in that we are in this together.”
Senior Moustapha Diarra is coming off the bench and providing key minutes and just under eight points a game while freshman point guard Cody Doolin has been running the Dons’ offense effectively. Sophomore Michael Williams leads the team in scoring at 15.3 points a game and sophomore Perris Blackwell and junior Angelo Caloiaro lead the Dons with seven rebounds a game.
“Cody has a pass-first, shoot-second mentality,” Walters said. “But they’ve all had big games for us this year.”
A few more over the last six games of the WCC season and the Dons could be looking at a top seed in the WCC Tournament.
San Diego vs. USF
WHEN: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: War Memorial Gym
RADIO: KDIA (1640 AM)
St. Mary’s vs. USF
WHEN: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: War Memorial Gym
TV: Comcast SportsNet Plus
RADIO: KNEW (910 AM)
WEST COAST CONFERENCE