The bright lights and big stage of the Big East Tournament were too much for the women’s basketball team to handle, as the Bulls fell 73-66 in the first round to Notre Dame.
USF now must wait until March 13 to see if an NCAA tournament bid is in its future.
The Bulls (19-11, 9-8) committed two turnovers in the last minute of the game, and Notre Dame (18-10, 9-8) capitalized at the free-throw line, making 15-of-18 in the second half. USF finished the game with 19 turnovers and went cold from the field in the final minutes.
“That was the difference in the game, because we were at our average of 12 turnovers in the first half,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “To have 19 turnovers, especially against a team that didn’t press us … we just had too many mental breakdowns.”
Freshman point guard Shantia Grace, who finished with a game-high 24 points, and junior forward Jessica Dickson missed their jump shots in the final minute.
“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to during the game,” Fernandez said. “This game is simple; it’s not rocket science. They had some players make the plays late, and we didn’t.”
All-American Notre Dame guard Megan Duffy scored all of her 16 points in the second half, including a 6-for-6 performance from the free-throw line that gave Notre Dame the win. Duffy was held scoreless for more than 29 minutes, but stepped up late in the game.
Dickson struggled from the field, going 6-for-21 with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Dickson, who shot 87 percent from the free-throw line in the regular season, missed two free throws with 2:21 remaining and Notre Dame leading by three. Dickson was called for an offensive foul with 17 seconds remaining, ending the Bulls’ chance at a comeback.
“They didn’t do anything different. She got good shots, they just didn’t go in,” Fernandez said. “She’s made those shots all year long, they just didn’t go in for her.”
After a slow start early in the first half, the Bulls used a 19-5 run to take a 28-20 lead. USF had success shooting behind the three-point arc, going 6-for-10 in the first half with Grace hitting three three-pointers in the first half.
“Even though I had a good offensive game overall, we didn’t get the win,” Grace said. “It was very frustrating to lose this game.”