The USF women’s basketball team finally snapped its 11-game losing streak and picked up its first win of 2003 with a 52-49 victory against Southern Miss on Sunday in the Sun Dome.
Senior Aiya Shepard led the Bulls (6-17, 1-9) to their first Conference USA victory of the season, scoring a game-high 24 points.
With the game tied at 49 with 19 seconds remaining, Shepard stepped to the free-throw line and hit the first of two free throws to give the Bulls a one-point advantage.
Southern Miss then brought the ball down and were prepared to hold for the game’s final shot, but Shepard poked the ball away from La’Tasha Sumerall.
Both teams scrambled for the loose ball in front of the scorers’ table, but Shepard was able to gain possession before being bumped out of bounds, resulting in a Southern Miss foul and an exuberant scream from Shepard.
“We played so hard, and I was so determined to get that ball,” Shepard said. “I almost ran over one of my (own) players because I was determined to get that ball. When I got it, it was just a sigh of relief that I got the ball when there wasn’t that much time left on the clock.”
Shepard then went back to the foul line and hit both free throws, securing the victory for the Bulls.
The difference in the game ultimately came down to production at the foul line. Shepard set school records in both free throws made and attempted, going 17-of-23 at the line and moving into seventh place on USF’s all-time career scoring list. Southern Miss managed to make only 12-of-21 free throws.
“We had been in that situation so many times this year,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “The kids really dug in there and they found a way to win.
“I tell you what, I don’t think there’s many 0-9 (conference) teams in the country that are still playing with that type of intensity and that type of effort.”
Intensity was something USF seemed to lack in Friday’s 87-55 loss against Tulane, but the Bulls entered the weekend on a bad note.
Senior Sonia Cotton was sidelined with a turf toe injury, while junior Jameelah Trimble, the team’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, and freshman Valerie de Velasco opted to leave the team for personal reasons.
But the Bulls bounced back Sunday and avoided tying the school record for consecutive losses.
“I think this is a big step,” Shepard said. “I think this will carry on to our next four games. Now that we know that if we play together, any day, any team, we can win.”
The Bulls stay home this weekend to face Charlotte on Friday and East Carolina on Sunday.