USF wins one, waits on postseason verdict

USF’s Big East tournament weekend didn’t last long, but the Bulls’ effort might have been just enough to squeak into the NCAA tournament.

Despite a 79-42 loss in the second round of the Big East tournament against top-ranked Connecticut on Sunday, the Bulls came away with a much-needed 68-58 victory over Cincinnati in the first round on Saturday — all but ensuring an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.

“This game for us, to be honest with you, was a must-win,” said coach Jose Fernandez after the game. “I thought this was a must-win for us to get an NCAA at-large bid and to get another team into the NCAA tournament from the Big East.”

USF senior Jazmine Sepulveda, who had a career-high eight three-point shots against Cincinnati, said a trip to the NCAA tournament would be a great way to end her career with the Bulls.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament,” she said. “It would be an excellent way to finish.”

With or without the NCAA tournament, the Bulls have surpassed expectations from the beginning of the season. South Florida was predicted to finish 12th in the Big East but finished eighth after winning its final three regular-season games.

Senior Shantia Grace said low expectations drove the Bulls to play harder this year.

“We were all mad when we got picked 12th,” she said. “We felt we deserved to be higher than that — it was our goal all season to finish higher than 12th.”

However, Grace said the large loss to Connecticut has cast doubt on whether the team will be chosen for an at-large bid.

“It seems questionable now,” she said. “We’re all kind of nervous.”

It was the second time UConn handed it to the Bulls — South Florida lost by 46 points in Tampa on Jan. 6. The Bulls scored 10 points in the first half Sunday and shot 28.6 percent from the floor.

Grace said a bigger disappointment would be to miss the NCAA tournament and  — play in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Grace is the only remaining member of USF’s 2005 NCAA tournament team.

“Our focus the whole year has been on the NCAA tournament,” she said. “It would be the bad point of our season to have to play in the NIT.”

NCAA selection is March 16. The Bulls will find out then where they’re going in the postseason.

“I know we’ll be pretty focused,” Grace said. “We’ll be ready for whoever.”