SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco upset Gonzaga at home in overtime for the second straight year, but Dons coach Rex Walters noticed this time the celebration was different.
This year when the students came running onto the court after the 96-91 win, he didn't need to pull his celebrating players into the handshake line.
"All of our guys were in line," said Walters, whose program hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since 1998. "That was great for me to see, that we expected to win this game."
The Dons won the battle for second place in the West Coast Conference, and perhaps their confidence in their ability to beat the Zags was the worst sign for the 10-time defending WCC regular-season champions.
Both of Gonzaga's games in Northern California this week ended in court stormings and career nights for the opponents. The Zags two days earlier saw Santa Clara's Kevin Foster torch them for 36 points, and all five opposing starters once again scored in double-figures as USF freshman Cody Doolin had 23 points, including the go-ahead 3-point play in overtime on Saturday.
For the first time since 2000, Gonzaga lost consecutive conference games. That was Mark Few's first season as head coach and the last time the Zags didn't win the WCC. Still, he's not ready to push the panic button just yet after the team's seventh loss of the season dropped it into a third-place tie.
"I told them, 'It's early in the league season,'" Few said. "We still control our own destiny. We can hang our heads after the last game of the season."
Funny things happen on the road, and one particularly critical ruling left Few frustrated. With 24.5 seconds left in regulation, Robert Sacre corralled a rebound with the Zags leading 81-80 but was whistled for an intentional foul while swinging his elbows to protect the ball and hitting Angelo Caloiaro in the face.
"I feel good," mused Caloiaro, who hit two free throws to give the Dons the lead and also possession of the ball. "Best elbow I've taken in a while."
Said Few: "I don't know what the rebounder's supposed to do. I don't know what to coach the rebounder on."
The Zags eventually sent the game into overtime on Demetri Goodson's 3-pointer. But 12 missed free throws -- including six in overtime -- ultimately cost them, and Doolin hit the game-winner on a drive in the lane with 4.1 seconds left.
Gonzaga now trails Saint Mary's by two games in the standings heading into its Thursday showdown in Spokane.
USF, meanwhile, has won six of seven and is off to its best conference start (4-1) since 1982. Walters' third year hasn't been without challenges, but when point guard Dominique O'Connor was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Michael Williams stepped into the lineup and has led the team in scoring while Doolin continues to improve.
Also a positive sign for the 10-10 Dons?
"We beat a good team not playing our best," Walters said.