Bulls let win slip away

Sophomore guard Shantia Grace led the Bulls with 19 points and nine assists during the Bulls third round WNIT loss to Virginia. JASON WATSON PHOTO

Jessica Dickson, the most prolific scorer in USF history, closes out her career with 12 points in a Bulls loss.

Jessica Dickson’s career wasn’t supposed to end like this.

Trailing Virginia by two points with 12 seconds remaining, Dickson recovered a loose ball, drove the length of the court and had the ball poked out of bounds. The ensuing inbounds pass slipped through the hands of center Nalini Miller. The Cavaliers (18-14) recovered and held on for a 73-71 victory.

“We wanted to bring (Dickson) off a double (screen) and they switched,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “Miller was open in the middle, but it was a bad pass. But it didn’t come down to that last play. These games don’t come down to the last play.”The Bulls’ loss in the third round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament was the furthest USF had advanced in postseason play during the program’s 35-year history.

Dickson, the Pre-season Big East Player of the Year and USF’s (21-11) all-time leading scorer, male or female, closed her career with 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting from the field. Dickson’s point total was seven below her season average.

Even though Dickson was struggling, the Bulls were able to pare a seven-point deficit down to two behind the shooting of Shantia Grace. The sophomore scored the final seven points for the Bulls.

Grace, the team’s leader in assists and second leading scorer, didn’t start for the second consecutive game, but finished with team highs of 19 points and nine assists.Along with Dickson and Miller, Rachael Sheats and Tristen Webb saw their careers at USF come to a close Thursday night.

“They brought a lot to this program. I feel for them because we didn’t get into the NCAA Tournament,” Fernandez said. “But it goes to show you they had a lot of fight left in them. They were down seven points and I’m happy for the way they showed up.”

Sheats had 11 points and seven rebounds, while Miller added 12 points and five rebounds for the Bulls.

The Cavaliers sealed their second WNIT game in a row during the final seconds, advancing past Charlotte behind a last-second shot from Lyndra Littles, giving Virginia a 74-72 victory.

Littles again led the way for Virginia, recording game-highs with 23 points and nine rebounds.

For the third time in four seasons, USF saw its season end in the state of Virginia. USF fell at Richmond three seasons ago in WNIT action, and was knocked out during the opening round of the NCAA tournament by Southern California in Norfolk.

The Bulls finished the season 4-7 away from the Sun Dome and closed the season dropping five of their final six road contests.

“We knew it was going to be tough going on the road,” Fernandez said. “There were a lot of expectations because we had the highest RPI in the tournament. But you go on the road and it’s tough to win on the road, especially in this type of environment.”

Grace’s stellar play along with ChiChi Okpaleke, Daiane Packer, Porche Grant and Melissa Dalembert gave Fernandez some confidence about his teams’ chances heading into next season.

“We have to find a way back into the NCAA Tournament,” Fernandez said. “We’re excited … I like how hard we played tonight.”