RICHMOND, Va. — The USF women”s basketball team entered Thursday’s game against Richmond just happy to be in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, making the program’s first postseason tournament in 26 years.
However, the Bulls ran into a Richmond team that was upset after being left out of the NCAA Tournament and relegated to the otherwise prestigious WNIT.
The Spiders didn’t dominate the Bulls, but they did do enough damage to walk away with a 63-55 victory in the first-round game at the Robins Center, ending USF’s season.
The biggest play came with USF trailing by five, when Richmond guard Saona Chapman buried a 3-pointer with 48 seconds remaining, sealing the win.
“We’re definitely disappointed because we came into this game prepared to win,” junior Alana Tanksley said. “It’s disappointing to go out knowing you should have won.”
“I was hoping we could go farther in the tournament, and everybody knew this was our game to win,” senior forward Sarah Lochmann said. “We knew if we lost this game it was over, as opposed to knowing we had a game afterwards. You know, you work so hard to get to this point and then it ends like that.”
Had the Bulls been able to pull out the win, it would have been one of the best comebacks of the year, and without Conference USA’s reigning freshman of the year and the team’s leading scorer, Jessica Dickson.
Midway through the second half and USF down 10 points, Dickson drove towards the goal and collided with Richmond’s DeUnna Hendrix on the baseline under the goal. Dickson, who was one of two Bulls in double figures with 13 points on 6 of 16 shooting, suffered a left ankle injury on the play and did not return.
“Jess carried us all year, and when she went down, that hurt us a little bit,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.
Even without Dickson, the Bulls managed to tighten the game. They got 3-pointers from seniors Sarah Lochmann and Melissa Tape, as well as Tanksley, during an 11-4 run that pulled the Bulls to within six.
“What we said is we all have to step up, we made it here for a reason, but we needed everybody,” Tanksley said. “When you lose your best player like that, you just have to come together collectively to try and get the win.”
However, it seemed as though the six-point deficit was USF’s glass ceiling, as the team could get no closer to the Spiders.
“We started battling back, but we could never come all the way back,” Tanksley said.
“It was just little things here and there — some bad shots, some missed layups, not getting back,” Lochmann said.
Though USF entered the game inexperienced regarding postseason play, it did a good job of not getting caught up in the moment early on. Though Richmond took an early six-point lead, USF always had an answer in the first half and went into halftime down 25-23.
But early in the second half the Bulls came out flat, and Richmond opened on a 13-2 run and built a 10-point lead. The Spiders would lead by as many as 13 in the second half, though USF constantly fought it’s wayback into the game.
With a very young team, including the entire starting five, as well as injured forward Rae Rae Sayles, the Bulls will be able to use this loss as motivation for next season. And that’s exactly what they plan to do.
“I think it’s going to make us that much hungrier,” Gilmore said.
“This is the start of next season,” Tanksley said. “We have high expectations for next season. Our goal is to win a conference championship and go to the NCAA Tournament. This was a start for us, and just a bad way to end the season.”