Speed’s late three pushes Bulls past Cardinals

Senior guard Allyson Speed may have even surprised herself with Saturday’s performance.

Speed, a 22 percent 3-point shooter on the season, buried a game-winning basket from behind the arc to give USF (15-13, 6-9) a 63-60 win over Louisville in front of a stunned crowd of 6,432 in the final regular season women’s basketball game ever played at historic Freedom Hall.

Speed’s shot – her eighth 3-pointer of the game – went in with three seconds to go after an inbounds play from behind their own basket. Louisville’s last-ditch effort to tie at the buzzer failed.

“The ball wasn’t even supposed to go to me,” Speed said. “It was supposed to go inside to (center Jessica) Lawson, but she was doubled-teamed, so I got open and was able to hit the shot.”

The win was crucial to USF’s postseason hunt, solidifying that it will finish with a .500 record. And the Bulls did it in a place where they are 0-11 all-time against the Cardinals. USF has been to five WNIT tournaments and one NCAA tournament since the 2003-04 season.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez. “We had never won (at Louisville), dating back to when we were both in Conference USA. But our kids stepped up (Saturday), and I am so happy for them.”

Louisville (13-15, 5-10) was paced by reigning Big East Player of the Week Monique Reid’s game-high 32 points to go along with 11 rebounds.

The Bulls, playing their fifth straight game with only eight available players, jumped out to a 16-6 lead midway through the first half. A 9-0 run by the Cardinals made it a one-point game before Speed connected for three consecutive 3-pointers in a two minute span to push the lead back to six.

From there, USF and Louisville – both entering tied for 10th in the conference and jostling for position for this weekend’s Big East tournament – went back and forth until Speed’s shot.

“Our coaches stressed the importance of this game before we started playing,” Speed said. “We had to win one of our last two games to be eligible for the WNIT and we just stepped up.”

Speed topped her career high with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Her previous high was 20 against Georgetown on Feb. 17.

“I knew from our morning shootaround that I was going to have a big game (Saturday),” Speed said. “I didn’t think I would have this good of a game, but to get the job done is a great feeling.”

Point guard KaNeisha Saunders’ 15 points and seven assists and Lawson’s 17 points and eight rebounds also helped the Bulls take a big step toward grabbing a WNIT spot.

“Having a chance to repeat as WNIT champions is huge for our team,” Lawson said. “It’s especially big for me as a senior because I don’t want this season to end. At least now, we have a few games left.”

USF, which sits ninth in the conference standings, ends its regular season tonight at 7 against DePaul (19-10, 8-7) in the Sun Dome.