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USF scares Notre Dame

Notre Dame didn’t score a field goal in the final 2:08, but the No. 8 Fighting Irish drained three free throws inside the final minute to survive with a 76-68 victory over USF at the Sun Dome Saturday night.

The Bulls (10-13, 1-8) were down by 17 with five minutes remaining when they made their final push toward picking up an upset win. Freshman center Akila McDonald and junior guards Andrea and Andrell Smith made seven shots among them in the closing minutes, helping the Bulls claw their way to a 73-66 deficit after a 13-3 run. The run was capped by a 3-pointer from Andrea, but only 44.3 seconds remained on the clock. That was as close as the Bulls would get.

In six games since losing to Connecticut on Jan. 8, the Irish had not allowed more than 60 points. Notre Dame (20-4, 9-1) lost that game by only three points to the Huskies, the two-time defending national champions.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said she was happy to escape Tampa with a win.

“We had turnovers, we didn’t get our steals, we didn’t play our game and I think South Florida did,” McGraw said. “They ran, they ran well, they attacked the rim on us – something nobody has really been able to do in a while. I think they caught us flat-footed … It was a good scare for us.”

Andrea, who had missed two days of practice with the flu, played a large part in giving the Irish that scare and was once again USF’s top offensive threat, scoring 20 points. McDonald contributed with a career-high 14 points.

However, forward Daleisha Carn, who started her 12th game of the season, struggled. Carn didn’t score, shooting 0-6 from the floor, and reeling in only three rebounds.

“She got good looks against the zone with her shots that she usually hits,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “She’s got to make those shots.”

Overall, Fernandez said he was happy with his team’s effort despite the loss.

“If you look at where we’re at, sitting at 10-13, and losing as many close games and being up in the second half as many times as we have been this year, you wouldn’t think that this team is a team with a 1-8 record in the Big East,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the effort and I would expect nothing less.”

USF won’t have a reprieve anytime soon, as it has little time to prepare before going on the road to face No. 17 Georgetown on Tuesday night. The game will be nationally televised on CBS College Sports with tip-off at 9.