On a night when the USF honored its three seniors, a red-hot DePaul team stole the spotlight.
The Blue Demons (20-10, 9-7) won their fourth in a row with a 75-61 victory Monday night at the Sun Dome, leaving USF seniors Jessica Lawson, Melissa Dalembert and Allyson Speed with an unhappy ending to their home careers.
Lawson recorded her Big East-leading 17th double-double of the year with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
“(Monday) was filled with emotions,” Lawson said. “My senior year is winding down, and this was my last home game. I knew this day was coming, but I never thought it would get here. Now that it has, reality sets in.”
The Bulls (15-14, 6-10) were plagued by 13 first-half turnovers but trailed by just five points at halftime thanks to 48 percent (11-23) shooting.
DePaul pulled away midway through the second half, however, when forward Keisha Hampton knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers in transition to give the Blue Demons a 52-37 lead.
“The turnover margin hurt us in the first half because we were shooting so well,” said USF coach Jose Fernandez. “DePaul is a great team and is a lock for the NCAA tournament in my mind with the way it has played all season.”
USF has lost four of its past five games and is 2-4 since its second and third leading scorers Janae Stokes and Sequoyah Griffin were suspended indefinitely Feb. 13 for violating team rules.
“With the adversity South Florida has faced this season, Jose Fernandez gets one of my votes for Big East Coach of the Year,” said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. “We ‘re thrilled to walk out of this arena with a victory against a team who continues to play hard (in) every game despite missing key players.”
Lawson said she could not be prouder of her team, which is on the WNIT bubble but will need wins in the Big East tournament, even though they are struggling to find consistency.
“I tip my hat off to my teammates,” she said. “We’ve been through a lot this season, but it feels better knowing we have a group who never stops fighting. At the end of the day, we know we played our hearts out and left it all on the floor.”
Senior Melissa Dalembert had six points and seven boards, while Speed was held scoreless after a career-high 24-point effort in a win Saturday at Louisville.
“I couldn’t be prouder of those three seniors,” Fernandez said. “Lawson was invited to a coaching clinic at the Final Four because she wants to coach professionally, Dalembert is engaged and Speed is going to be successful in an thing she does because she’s a great communicator and likeable person. Those three girls have grown into tremendously bright young women in the time they have spent here, and I couldn’t be happier for them.”