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‘Matched by Grace’

No. 25 DePaul 73, USF 78

A night of standout individual performances highlighted the University of South Florida women’s basketball team’s (12-10, 2-7) 78-73 win against the No. 24 DePaul Blue Demons (16-6, 5-4). The upset gives the Bulls life to make the Big East Conference Tournament.

Junior guard Shantia Grace scored a career-high 35 points, softening the blow of DePaul guard Allie Quigley’s season-high 36-point performance, while USF junior guard Jazmine Sepulveda added a season-high 22 points.

“We had a great night offensively,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “It’s tough to lose a night like that, but it was matched by Grace, and that basically canceled out Allie’s great night.”

Sepulveda ignited the team at the start of the game, scoring six of the Bulls’ first 11 points, as they jumped out to an 11-2 lead.

“We got off to a good start,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “That was huge for us early. We came out into the game well-prepared.”

“When we started warming up,” Grace said. “I told (Sepulveda) the entire night, if you have the opportunity to shoot it, don’t think. And that’s what she did. She came out and attacked the basket, shot some threes.”

The lead never grew larger during the game. Coach Bruno called a timeout when the score reached 11-5. Shortly after the timeout, the Blue Demons caught up to 17-17.

The Bulls’ lead grew as high as six after the tie. DePaul shot 16 threes in the first half as they tried to keep up. They made four.

USF shot 6-of-14 from behind the arc in the first half, including one three pointer by senior guard Daiane Packer in the last minute of play that gave the Bulls a 37-34 lead going into the break.

Quigley and Sepulveda carried their teams in the beginning. Sepulveda scored 12 for USF, while Quigley put up 15 for the Blue Demons.

The second half featured a hot-handed Grace and Quigley. Grace scored 15, Quigley 21. However, Sepulveda added 10 points as the guard tandem posted 37 of the team’s 41 second-half points. DePaul had no answer for them.

The Bulls answered DePaul’s offensive threat, holding the Blue Demons to eight less than their 81-point average.

“What we needed to do, of course, is defend the arc,” Fernandez said. “Because we knew they were going to shoot 25 to 30 threes. We needed to protect the ball.”

The Blue Demons shot 26 threes, but South Florida allowed them to make 8 for 30 percent. The Bulls shot 10-of-25 from long range for 40 percent.

According to Fernandez, Grace and Sepulveda played well, scoring 57 points combined and turning the ball over only three times.

The victory gives the Bulls momentum after losing two games by a combined 59 points.

“We played with much more energy, with effort and desire,” Fernandez said. “We played like it meant something, where we didn’t play at Louisville like it meant something.”

The Bulls moved up from 15th to 13th place in the Big East Conference after the win and need to be in 12th to qualify for the Big East Tournament. If the Bulls make the tournament, it will be the third year in a row.

“Losing takes a huge toll on you,” Fernandez said. “Everybody’s unhappy and you start to question yourselves. Sometimes kids start to point the finger instead of point the thumb right at themselves and have some accountability.”

“What we did was talk about the last two days. Let’s quit making excuses and feeling sorry for ourselves and find solutions. I think tonight we played sound basketball and they found a solution.”