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USF advances to third round of WNIT

It may not be the NCAA tournament, but the Bulls are still determined to win.

With three players who scored more than 15 points, the Bulls (23-10, 8-8) outlasted hot Florida Gulf Coast shooting to survive the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) with an 88-81 second-round overtime victory Saturday night at the Sun Dome.

Jasmine Wynne led USF with a career-high 26 points, and seniors Brittany Denson and Jessica Lawson recorded double-doubles to help secure the program’s third postseason victory.

Despite capturing 22 regular-season wins and a .500 record in the Big East, the Bulls were left out of the NCAA tournament, but Wynne said the team is motivated to prove themselves in the WNIT.

“My teammates had a lot of confidence in me, so that built mine,” Wynne said. “It’s not the postseason that we wanted, but we may as well go out and give it all we’ve got, and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”

USF trailed by more than eight points in the first half and struggled to keep up with FGCU’s shooting. The Eagles shot more than 60 percent from the field, and USF coach Jose Fernandez said he challenged his team at halftime.

“I went back to talking: How do you want to be remembered?” he said.

The Bulls responded in the second half by tying it at the 11:35 mark and exchanging lead changes until Wynne sliced through the lane with 15 seconds left and gave USF a 79-77 lead. But with two seconds remaining, FGCU’s Adrianne McNally sent the game to overtime with a dramatic left-handed layup.

USF tightened defense, allowing one FGCU basket during overtime, and Wynne scored four points to seal the victory. Fernandez said that after an emotional week, the team responded well.

“We’re not going to talk about the NCAA tournament anymore, that’s long gone,” he said. “We’ve got to move forward — let’s go ahead and win this thing. Let’s move on and get ready for next year.”

As a team filled with seniors, the Bulls are trying to make it as far as they can in the

“We’re just trying to leave with something,” Lawson said. “This is our last chance to prove to everybody that USF has come a long way.”

Fernandez has been to one NCAA tournament at USF in 2005-06, but said this year is about focusing on his players.

“I want it more for our guys — it’s for them,” he said. “I’m going to coach for the rest of my life, I’m going to get back to the NCAA tournament, and they’re not. I want them to finish on a good note.”

With an 87-49 trouncing of Murray State Sunday, Mississippi advanced and will face the Bulls in the third round of the WNIT Thursday at 6 p.m at the Sun Dome.

The Rebels are 18-14 on the season and finished tied for ninth in the SEC regular season conference standings.