Grace deserves one more dance

March Madness — it happens every year.

College basketball’s best are competing for 64 spots in the NCAA tournament. The USF women’s basketball team certainly fits into that group. Led by senior Shantia Grace, the Bulls (22-10) deserve one of the final spots in basketball’s “Big Dance.”

It’s been a good year for USF. The Bulls finished eighth in the Big East despite being picked to finish 12th in the preseason. Sure, they had two bad losses to No. 1 Connecticut and No. 12 California, but they had five 100-point games and wins over powerhouse Rutgers and defending Big Ten champion Iowa.

So is this enough for them to be chosen for the NCAA tournament?

ESPN’s Charlie Creme said USF, which has a Real Time RPI of 54, is one of the last
four teams to get an at-large bid into the tournament, projected to play Kansas State (23-6) in Chattanooga. Of the other three teams on the edge, USF has the second-lowest ranking. Temple is No. 22, while Mississippi State has an RPI of 45 and Minnesota is at 56.

When talking about numbers at USF, though, it all starts with senior Shantia Grace.

There’s only one player left in the program who made the memorable run to the NCAA Tournament in 2005-06. It was Grace, then she was a freshman. Grace suffered a knee injury that year, and Tristen Webb was given a starting spot at guard, starting 30 of the Bulls’ 31 games.

Webb finished second on the team with 10.4 points per game and averaged a second-best Big East mark of five assists per game. Grace wasn’t No. 1 then, but she found success early, totaling 14 assists and seven steals during a nonconference game against the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez.

She earned her spot and helped the Bulls make the “Big Dance” that year. The Bulls lost in the first round to USC, but Grace scored 17 points — not bad for a freshman.

But what a difference four years has made. Her career speaks for itself: Grace deserves one more dance.

 Grace has been second-team All-Big East twice and was named first-team All-Big East after a great senior season, averaging 14.8 points per game. She’s the leader of the team and has dished out 4.7 assists per game.

Perhaps the highlight of the season came when Grace scored a career-high 44 points against Coppin State on Nov. 23. No one can deny that she’s having the best season of her illustrious career at USF.

Without Grace, USF wouldn’t be in a position for an NCAA tournament bid. There have been countless games in which her leadership and determination led to a win.

Monday, the Bulls and Grace find out whether they’ll be dancing in the tournament or heading to the NIT.

Grace deserves it. It’s time for USF to get one last dance.