By Sam McPherson

One of the great things about college basketball conference tournaments is the Cinderella stories that occur every March, and the University of San Francisco men’s basketball team hopes the sneaker fits on Saturday in Las Vegas. After beating the University of the Pacific in an opening-round West Coast Conference Tournament game on Friday night, the Dons’ reward is a date on Saturday with the No. 7 Gonzaga Bulldogs.

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USF would love to try on the glass basketball shoe in Sin City on Saturday and knock off the WCC regular-season champions. Stranger things have happened in college basketball over the years, of course, so who says the Dons can’t do it? Everyone knows it is improbable, but the possibilities are what keep us watching these games every year.

To get this opportunity, the Dons beat the Tigers, 62-58, behind 14 points from both Kruize Pinkins and Tim Derksen. Matt Glover grabbed 10 rebounds, and Devin Watson had six assists. The overall team effort on defense held UOP to under 31 percent shooting from the floor overall. The Tigers grabbed a whopping 18 offensive boards, but they were unable to convert many of those second chances into points.

The game was tied at halftime, 28-28, but the Dons pulled ahead for good just 1:51 into the second half on a Pinkins layup. USF led by as many as eight points before sealing the game late in the half from the free throw line: The Dons scored their last seven points from the charity stripe after Derksen’s layup gave USF a 55-47 lead with just 4:52 left in the game.

The Dons beat the Tigers three times this season, including twice in a row now as the two teams closed out the regular season on February 28 in San Francisco. USF won that game by 10 points and also won in Stockton by six points on December 27.

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Now, it’s Gonzaga time for the Dons. On February 7 at home, USF gave Gonzaga a good game, dropping an 81-70 decision. But on the road against the Bulldogs on January 8, the Dons lost by 31 points. USF hasn’t had a strong season—the Dons are just 14-17 on the year, and their 7-11 conference mark didn’t even get them a first-round bye in the conference tourney—but maybe they can push Gonzaga a bit on a neutral court.

Pinkins led USF in both scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounding (5.4 rpg) this year, and Matt Tollefsen wasn’t far behind with his 13.9 ppg and 5.3 rpg. The Dons run a three-guard offense, and if the three-point shots can fall, perhaps they can hang with Gonzaga deep into the second half.

The Bulldogs are a juggernaut, having lost to the Arizona Wildcats—regular-season champs of the Pac-12—by three points in overtime back on December 6 in Tucson. Also, Gonzaga lost its last regular-season WCC game against Brigham Young at home by three points. In between, the Bulldogs won 22 straight games on their way to a 29-2 record.

Maybe Gonzaga is primed for a fall, but losing to BYU was probably just a wake-up call for these Bulldogs. Now, USF gets to find out for sure on the court Saturday night.

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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on