USF 61, Marquette 55
The South Florida women’s basketball team played Marquette on Jan. 26 and lost 79-66. The Bulls played them again Monday night and won – in a much more important game.
USF needed a win against Marquette and a Villanova loss to Louisville on Monday for a chance to qualify for the Big East Tournament for the third year in a row. USF won 61-55 and Villanova lost 84-52. The top 12 teams in the conference qualify for the tournament and, before Monday night, USF sat in 13th while Villanova sat in 12th.
Villanova sat one game ahead of the Bulls in Big East play with five wins to USF’s four going into Monday, but USF beat them 77-66 on Feb. 19. The win gave the Bulls the tiebreaker if the two teams ended the season with the same record.
USF junior guard Shantia Grace rose to the occasion as she carried the Bulls to the postseason with 30 points against Marquette in a 61-55 victory. She is eighth in the Big East in scoring, averaging 18.3 points a game.
The Bulls jumped out to an early lead in the first half, with Grace scoring 17 points before the break.
“(Grace) had a great half with 17 points,” Andy Christensen, USF director of basketball operations, said. “You know she was able to knock down a couple of threes early, and as of late she was getting to the rim and the free-throw line.”
Her exceptional play continued into the second half, as she led the Bulls in scoring throughout the entire game.
“You know, Shantia had a good game down the stretch. I thought in the first half she really engaged and really set the tone,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.
A few weeks ago, the Bulls seemed to be out of the tournament when they were in 14th place. However, the Bulls won their last two games and caught a break, as they needed Villanova to lose.
Fernandez said winning the last two games shows a lot of character even when it seemed the team was out of chances.
Not only does the win get the Bulls into the Big East Tournament, it keeps them over .500 for the season, which could get them an NIT invitation, Fernandez said.