USF women hoping talent-rich roster will snap NCAA Tournament drought

Ioanna Krimili might be the best player in the nation you’ve never heard of — and the USF women are banking on an even bigger season from her.

The 5-foot-10 sharpshooter from Greece is a two-time All-WCC first team selection. If USF makes the run this season it is expecting, it will start with Krimili, the lone Don on the preseason all-conference team.

The Dons (17-16, 10-8) are bringing back nearly 85% of their minutes and 80% of their scoring. Much of that is Krimili, who averaged 19.4 points last season after breaking the program’s 3-point record in 2020-21 with 97, the second-most in the nation.

“We want to make an NCAA appearance,” said senior guard Jessica McDowell-White. “I think with this group, it’s something we could achieve, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

USF last reach the NCAA Tournament in 2016 — when they were knocked off by Stanford in the first round.

Krimili, a redshirt junior guard, led the WCC in scoring the past two seasons and is on the watch list for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award.

Though she might be the main reason the Dons can dream of an NCAA Tournament berth, USF took deliberate steps to to build an identity prior to her time on the Hilltop. Abby Rathburn and Amalie Langer, who arrived in 2018, have played key parts.

Krimili’s redshirt freshman season (2020-21) was the first time USF won a WNIT game. The Dons think this year’s group might be stronger.

“Four years, five years ago, we had eight freshmen,” said seventh-year head coach Molly Goodenbour. “Everything was new. Some of those kids are now fifth-year seniors or grad students, that takes some pressure off.”

The Dons, projected to finish fourth in the WCC, will need to find scoring depth beyond Krimili. Jasmine Gayles is a threat, having averaged 11.6 points a game off the bench after transferring from Northern Colorado. Kennedy Dickie, who transferred from Eastern Washington prior to last season, averaged 9.1 points per contest. USF lost the 10.5 points per game provided by Claudia Langarita, who transferred to Cal.

USF’s playmaker extraordinaire, McDowell-White, will be relied on more as a scorer. She averaged a team-high 4.3 assists while playing 32.2 minutes per game, trailing only Krimili. Her objective for the season is to play more “selfish” and take open shots.

One area the Dons need to improve in is in the paint. USF had the worst offensive rebounding in the conference and the widest rebounding margin in the wrong direction. Newcomers Loren Christie and Debora Dos Santos might be key to strengthening the presence around the rim.

Christie, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Buffalo, picked up 4.4 rebounds per game a year ago. The 6-foot Dos Santos is more of a mystery with high hopes. The junior-college transfer missed last season after suffering an ACL tear. With 51 blocks, 31 steals and 19 double-doubles in her freshman season at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, expectations are in place.

“Every day we learn a little bit more about what she is capable of,” Goodenbour said. “She’s really strong physically, plays hard and is engaged all the time. She’s really pleasant to coach.”

Rathburn is one of three grad students — along with Langer and Kia Vaalavirta — entering a fifth season with the program. Langer started every game last season while Vaalavirta played just over 12 minutes per contest.

Rathburn started 11 games after dealing with a back injury that kept her out most of the season after Christmas. Her presence in the starting lineup will be a welcome return.

For her and her classmates, this season comes full circle.

“Five years ago, eight of us came here as freshmen trying to rebuild a program,” Rathburn said. “Now we’re in our fifth year competing to make the tournament, that’s really exciting.”

Marisa Ingemi is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:

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