USF was down but not out.
The Bulls trailed by’12 points with 12 minutes remaining Tuesday night against Big East-winless Villanova, but they flipped a switch and turned the deficit into a 61-51 victory at the’Sun Dome.
‘I’m extremely proud of the way we played in the last’minutes of the game,’ said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez. ‘Our defensive effort and energy totally changed and we really made our run when we started playing full-court defense.’
USF, led by freshman point guard KaNeisha Saunders, outscored Villanova 28-6 in the last 12 minutes. Saunders continued to fill in nicely for injured guard Jasmine Wynne, leading USF (13-8, 4-4) with’15 points and nine rebounds.
Senior guard Janae Stokes was held scoreless in the first half but finished with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field. But it was junior Leondra Doomes-Stephens who gave the Bulls a spark in the late stages, going on a self-made, 6-0 run to give USF a 56-51 lead with’1:30 remaining.
‘I listened closely and paid attention during our timeouts late in the game,’Doomes-Stephens said. ‘I focused on what I had to do and I made my shots.’
Tuesday night’s result was all too familiar for Villanova'(11-10, 0-8), as it has lost four games in the previous three weeks when leading in the final five minutes.
‘A young team panics in the last five minutes of a game,’ said Villanova coach Harry Perretta. ‘We fought hard and had them for nearly the whole game but we made too many mistakes late and it cost us.’
Senior Melissa Dalembert saw increased minutes, filling in for senior center Jessica Lawson, who only played’19 minutes because of a recurring knee injury. Dalembert held Wildcats forward Laura Sweeney to eight second-half points after she scored 14 in the first half.
‘I told myself that I needed to shut her down because she was killing us,’ said Dalembert, who added eight points and five rebounds. ‘When we were down double digits in the second half, we got on each other positively and turned it around. We crashed the boards really well and got the result we needed.’
Doomes-Stephens said the team kept its composure despite being down 12 in the second half.
‘From the middle of the second half to the end of the game, we played team ball and picked each other up,’ she said. ‘We had good looks at the basket and executed.’