It had been a recurring theme for the USF women’s basketball team for the past 1 1/2 years that the Bulls always seemed to find themselves on the losing end of all the close games.
In fact, two games this season, both against top-25 opponents, ended up the same way.
And at times during the Bulls’ game Monday night in the Sun Dome against No. 18 TCU, it seemed as though that theme would keep on resurfacing. But then again, a young freshman guard named Jessica Dickson had other plans.
Dickson hit a pair of buzzer-beaters, including a half-court launch to force double overtime, and then scored nine points in the final period as the Bulls defeated the Horned Frogs 89-84.
“You’re going to remember a game like this for the rest of your life,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “It’s games like this that really determine the character of the ball club.
“This is definitely the most exciting and the biggest win. This is our biggest win (at home) in my career here, (and) the one that I enjoyed the most.”
The victory was the first for USF against a ranked opponent this season, and it also snapped a three-game conference losing skid at home.
The biggest play for the Bulls began with 8.8 seconds to go in overtime. The Bulls trailed by three, 74-71, and set up for an inbound pass play after TCU’s Tracy Wynn sank a pair of free throws.
Freshman Rachael Sheats got the inbounds but slipped and fell to the court near the free-throw line. A TCU player then dove on top of Sheats and began fighting for the ball as time ticked away.
“Honestly, I seriously thought the game was over,” said Sheats, who was one of three Bulls in double figures with 13 points. “I didn’t know how much time was on the clock or anything.”
Sheats somehow managed to flip the ball to senior guard Melissa Tape, who found Dickson open near midcourt.
“I looked up and I saw Jessica Dickson, and I saw that she got the ball and then I looked up at the clock and saw that we had like two seconds left,” Sheats said. “(And then I said) it’s in her hands now, and I have so much faith in her — I had no worries.”
Sheats had good reasons not to worry. Dickson had caught fire in the second half and couldn’t miss. And when she fired up the shot from half court just before the buzzer, she didn’t.
“I just let it go and I didn’t even call bank or nothing,” Dickson said. “And then it just went in. Thank God it did bank.”
Dickson’s buzzer beater forced double overtime, but the freshman again stood up down the stretch, scoring nine of her career-high 36 points in double overtime. Dickson connected on 12 of 30 shots from the field and 10 of 14 free-throw attempts, including a 4 of 6 effort from the foul line near the end of the game to seal the win.
“For the first time, I think in all the close games and all the battles that we’ve had, I think we really dug down deep inside,” Fernandez said. “When we needed a stop we got it, (and) when we needed a basket we got it.”
When the Bulls needed a basket, they went to Dickson. But another player felt it was time for her to start contributing more on the offensive end and responded with a career-high performance of her own.
Junior guard Anedra Gilmore scored 17 points, including six consecutive points early in the second half to help USF tie the game at 42. Gilmore also tied the game at 64 with less that a minute remaining in regulation, helping the Bulls force overtime.
“We’ve been playing too hard to lose these close games, and I think everyone just stepped it up. So we just had to make a point (Monday),” Gilmore said. “I think we were coming out here (Monday) with something to prove, that’s been our motto all season.”