Aside from winning the American Athletic Conference and a NCAA national championship, there was one goal this year’s Bulls squad wanted to accomplish before the end of this season.
After a sluggish start in the semifinals of the AAC Tournament, USF will have that chance, pulling away from a hungry Temple team fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives in a 64-46 win Sunday night.
The victory gives the Bulls one final opportunity to knock off the undefeated defending national champion Huskies in Monday’s AAC Tournament final in Uncasville, CN.
In Sunday’s semifinal win, the Bulls (23-8, 14-4) were led by the play of senior guards Shalethia Stringfield and Courtney Williams, despite an uncharacteristically slow start from Williams, a finalist for the Wooden Award, which goes to the nation’s top player.
“I know if Courtney (Williams) isn’t going, I know she’ll get going if I get going too,” Stringfield said following the game. “It’s a feeling that we both have. I know we have to keep going. She wouldn’t want us to stop.”
The Bulls were able to lead the Owls (20-11,13-5) by three going into halftime, thanks, in part, to a strong first half from Stringfield.
Stringfield scored 12 of her 20 points in the first two quarters, while Williams struggled with only 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field.
Temple broke out to a six-point lead early in the third quarter, but the Bulls were able to take back the lead with under five seconds to go in the third when Williams converted on a putback at the end an expiring shot clock. Williams followed up with a free throw to give USF a 45-39 advantage.
The Bulls would not relinquish that lead, with 20 second-half points from Williams and a fourth quarter where the Bulls held the Owls to only seven points.
In the win, Stringfield and Williams combined for over two-thirds Bulls points, with the senior forward leading the charge defensively with a game-high 15 rebounds.
After the Huskies blew out Tulane in the other semifinal game Sunday in an 82-35 drubbing of the Green Wave, USF will meet UConn, the teams’ second meeting in two weeks.
Monday’s AAC final against Connecticut may be the final time the Bulls have a chance to knock off a team they have yet to defeat since both schools joined the AAC.
Tip-off with the No. 1 Huskies is at 7 p.m. Monday, broadcast on ESPN2.