Bulls win at home

Pittsburgh 64, USF 65

The South Florida women’s basketball team earned its largest comeback victory of the season Saturday at the Sun Dome. The Bulls (14-14, 4-11) found themselves down 18-2 to Pittsburgh (19-9, 9-6) within the first six minutes of play and came back to win 65-64. The win kept the Bulls’ hopes to make the Big East Tournament for the third year in a row alive.

The game boiled down to the last two plays: a game-winning shot followed by a controversial play in which no foul was called by the referees.

Pittsburgh senior forward Marcedes Walker made a free throw with 15 seconds left to go up 64-63. Then, Bulls junior guard Shantia Grace received the inbound pass and dribbled the ball to the other end of the court and shot a lay-up that rolled around the rim before going in with five seconds left on the clock.

“Coach (Jose Fernandez) said if they score, then inbound the ball to me and go to the basket, and that’s what I did,” Grace said. “I didn’t see anybody in front of me. I saw Jessica Lawson, and I saw my defender and then the basket. So, I went straight for the basket.”

The defender challenged Grace’s shot causing her to shoot off balance, which silenced the crowd.

“I was just praying it goes in,” USF senior forward ChiChi Okpaleke said. “It went around a couple seconds. It was like watching a movie.”

Pittsburgh junior guard Shavonte Zellous then tried to win the game by attempting a desperation shot with one-tenth of a second remaining. Okpaleke contested the shot and the two players made contact as the game buzzer sounded.

Pittsburgh coach Agnus Berenato pleaded to the referees, but no foul was called.

“She (Zellous) definitely got raked.” Berenato said.

Okpaleke claimed otherwise.

“I didn’t touch her,” she said.

Confusion settled in as Berenato wanted to know what happened on the court. Fernandez told his players to get off the court. They went into the locker room.

A written response by the game’s officials Eric Brewton, Sue Blauch and Chad Titus said, “There was no foul called by the officials near the expiration of time to end the game. Therefore, by Rule 2. 13.5.a, the play is not reviewable. Article 5 states that the monitor may not be used to ‘determine who committed a foul or whether a foul occurred.'”

The win not only ended a two-game losing streak for the Bulls, it ended a winless record against Pittsburgh, making the series 1-4.

Okpaleke was, along with Daiane Packer, one of two seniors playing in their last home game for USF on senior night, and said she will hold the win high in her memory of games.

“It was amazing,” Okpaleke said. “We were 0-4 against them in the past couple of years. I told (the team) months ago I don’t care what happens by the end of the season, we are going to beat Pittsburgh.”

The Pittsburgh win gives the Bulls a chance to make the Big East Tournament. USF sits at 13th in the conference, and the tournament allows the top 12 teams to qualify. For the Bulls to get in, they need to beat Marquette (16-12, 8-7) today, and Villanova (15-13, 5-10) must lose to Louisville (20-8, 9-6) the same day.

Villanova sits one game ahead of the Bulls with five conference wins compared to USF’s four. A tie would go to the Bulls because they beat the Wildcats 77-66 Feb. 19.

USF played Marquette Jan. 26 and lost 79-66 when junior guard Krystal Ellis scored 30 points to lead the Golden Eagles to victory.

“If she gets 30 (again), then she’s going to beat us,” Fernandez said.