Amanda Rego is a senior player on the University of San Diego womenâ€™s basketball team. Sheâ€™s not the only senior on the roster, but for USD she is the senior. Sheâ€™s not only its most experienced player, but sheâ€™s the one who, as the West Coast Conference Tournament opened Thursday, had only one goal â€” for USD to have a second tournament game to play on Saturday.
The Torerosâ€™ program is one on the rise, but coming into Thursdayâ€™s game, USDâ€™s 9-12 all-time record in WCC Tournament play included a first-round exit three years in a row.Â With family and friends in attendance, Rego made three of four free throws in the final 14.2 seconds and Morgan Hendersonâ€™s clutch rebound on Regoâ€™s one miss, enabled the Toreros to escape with a 61-57 first-round victory against Portland at USDâ€™s Jenny Craig Pavilion.
â€œComplete tears of joy,â€ said Rego, who had seven points, five rebounds and nine assists in the victory, about advancing to the second round (semifinals) of the tournament, which will be played at noon Saturday against Santa Clara, an 89-84 winner over San Francisco on Thursday.
Getting to the second game wasnâ€™t exactly easy for the Toreros (17-12 overall). A 37-23 halftime lead, andÂ then a 14-point lead on the strength of freshman Sam Childâ€™s back-to-back baskets for a 43-29 edge, evaporated.
Portland had an 8-0 run and closed it to 49-48 on a 3-pointer by Laiken Dollente, who led the Pilots with 20 points. A 51-50 edge for USD increased to four on the strength of a basket awarded to Kiva Herman, who was intentionally fouled by Portlandâ€™s Karlie Burns with 3:48 left in the game. Henderson made one of two free throws, but Dollenteâ€™s fourth 3-pointer of the night gave Portland a 55-54 advantage with 1:20 remaining and its first lead since a 10-4 edge to start the first half.
Child, who led the Toreros with 14 points, made both free throws for a 56-55 USD edge with 1:11 left. A missed opportunity by Portland was rebounded by Amber Sprague (10 points, 13 rebounds) and Rego brought the ball up for the last minute. She drove toward the basket, but collided with Portland’s Allyson Sievers and crumpled to the ground. Rego made the first free throw, but her second one bounced off and into Hendersonâ€™s hands with 10.7 seconds left. Henderson converted two free throws for a 59-55 cushion. After Tara Cronin cut it back to 59-57, Rego sank two free throws to cement the victory and guarantee a second tournament game.
â€œOur kids came up huge at the end,â€ USD head coach Cindy Fisher said.
The tournament is a one-loss-and-done for most of the WCC teams but each victory in March postpones the conclusion of USD’s all-time assists leader a little longer. Having the conference tournament on USDâ€™s home floor provides Rego additional incentive to extend the season as long as possible.
â€œI couldnâ€™t ask for a better opportunity my senior year than to have the conference tournament at home,â€ she said. â€œI think itâ€™s a huge advantage. We want to get the student body involved and get them to our games. Itâ€™s more exciting to play when you have that energy coming from the stands. I want to finish my senior year with a championship and Iâ€™m excited knowing I have a chance to do it at home in front of my family and friends.â€
It will take two more wins for Rego, a WCC first-team selection again this year, and her teammates to win the WCC Tournament title, which would be USDâ€™s first since 2000. A win Saturday for USD puts them into Sundayâ€™s 1:30 p.m. championship game and a win there clinches an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Earlier this season, when asked what she like her legacy at USD to be, Regoâ€™s answer was simple: â€œI want to be remembered as the person who led the team to a WCC championship and to a good run in the NCAA Tournament. Honestly, thatâ€™s it.â€
For more information about USD womenâ€™s basketball, go to: www.usdtoreros.comÂ