Two little too late (USC- 67, USF- 65)

The University of Southern California hit two out of four free throws in the final minute and freshman guard Shantia Grace’s last-second three-pointer fell short in the Bulls’ 67-65 loss in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Sunday in Norfolk, Va.

With the ball in her hands and USF (19-12) down by one, junior forward Jessica Dickson was aggressive in driving to the lane, but she didn’t get the foul or basket she was hoping for as USC center Chloe Kerr tied up the ball, giving the Trojans (19-11) the possession.

Dickson, who led the Bulls with 18 points, was held to just one field goal in the second half. Grace stepped up in the second half, scoring 11 of her 17 points after the break.

Grace went to the foul line with less than 10 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game, but missed one of two free throws.

USF was outmatched in the paint by the Trojans, with Kerr scoring 16 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. The Bulls had no answer for USC’s dominant play under the basket.

In the first tournament game in the program’s history, the Bulls grabbed a 47-40 lead early in the second half. But as was the case many times during the regular season, USF was unable to hold on to the lead, which changed hands 10 times in the second half and 19 times throughout the game.

“This was definitely one of the better games in the tournament,” coach Jose Fernandez said in a press release. “The selection committee did a great job with the seeding. Both teams have a very good basketball team, and we made some great plays right up until the end. On the stat sheet, turnovers and rebounds are pretty even down the line.”

The Trojans used an 11-0 run midway through the second half to take a 51-47 lead, with most of their points coming from the free-throw line. USC went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line during the run.

USF had a scoring drought of more than five minutes in the second half during the Trojans’ run. Grace ended the drought with a jump shot.

Dickson scored 11 points in the first half and sparked an 11-1 run to help the Bulls bounce back from an early 10-2 deficit. Dickson scored seven points in the run, leading USF to a 13-11 lead.

Dickson, however, had to sit out for more than six minutes at the end of the first half with three fouls. The Trojans wanted to increase their lead with Dickson on the bench, but USF responded with an 8-2 run to take a 27-24 lead.

“We talked about taking care of the ball and rebounding. We could have done a better job of both of those things,” Fernandez said. “Now we have set the standard for our program; we got here. Now it’s expected every year.”

USC guard Jamie Hagiya hit a three-pointer late in the first half to put the Trojans up 30-29. USF senior forward Ezria Parsons hit two jump shots to end the first half and give the Bulls a 33-32 halftime lead.

Junior guard Rachael Sheats added eight points for the Bulls in the first half. Eshaya Murphy led the Trojans with seven first-half points.