Just as it seemed USF’s NCAA Tournament hopes would be dashed, the Bulls pulled off a late game thriller.
Trailing by three with less than a minute to play, senior guard Shantia Grace made a crucial play to propel a 52-50 USF (21-9, 8-8) victory over Villanova (18-12, 10-6) at the Pavilion.
With 40 seconds left, Grace made a basket and hit a free throw to complete a three-point play and tie the game 50-50. Senior Jazmine Sepulveda then got a steal with nine seconds left and drained a shot to give the Bulls their 21st victory this season.
“Coach told me it was going to have to come from me,” Sepulveda said. “I just stole it and took it to the basket.”
At the end of the first half, the Bulls trailed by six and coach Jose Fernandez gave his team advice.
“He told us we had to talk more on defense,” Sepulveda said. “He told us we had to keep fighting the battles.”
Battle they did.
South Florida trailed by as many as seven in the second half but a jump shot by Sepulveda gave the Bulls the lead with 10:49 remaining. The Wildcats then took control of the game, but Fernandez told his team to stay together.
“He told us to keep our composure,” Sepulveda said. “He told us to play one defensive stop at a time.”
With a Georgetown and Marquette loss, the Bulls can climb into eighth place in the conference, earning them a first-round bye in the Big East tournament.
Fernandez said the NCAA Tournament ramifications would have a bigger impact.
“NCAA tournament teams find a way to win,” Fernandez said. “We went on the road and found the way to win.”
The Bulls will be looking to reach that mark with another win in Big East tournament on Saturday.