It was a senior night for the ages Monday night at the Yuengling Center.
Not only did USF women’s basketball put a scare into No. 2 UConn before eventually falling 57-47, it marked the return, albeit a brief one, of an outgoing senior to the court.
Prior to Monday’s game, Laura Ferreira, who last played Jan. 5 at Temple, announced via a team-released video the exact illness that has kept her away from basketball.
“I’m not playing right now because I had some [heart] palpitations before — while I was playing,” Ferreira said in the video. “The doctor took me out, I did a bunch of tests and, unfortunately, it showed [Ventricular tachycardia]. And the next step is to put a defibrillator on.
“The doctors are positive about me going back on the court.”
The video was tweeted by USF at 5 p.m.
At 7 p.m., Ferreira was in the starting lineup.
While she wasn’t in the game long — Ferreira officially registered 0+ minutes played on the stat sheet — she was in long enough to score the game’s first points — an unobstructed layup that no Husky contested.
“[USF coach] Jose [Fernandez] wanted to do something nice for the kid,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s been out and people are wondering what was wrong with her. To be her age and to have a heart condition and have an implant coming up, that’s just — it’s a tough hand she was dealt.
“I have some experience in these issues. So we were able to put something together.”
Ferreira’s teammates appreciated the gesture.
“It was amazing. It was very emotional,” sophomore Enna Pehadzic said. “She deserves it. There’s no words. Everybody loves her so much and we were just really, really happy that could happen.”
The moment, even as brief as it was, was clearly special to everyone in the building. But it wasn’t a decision that was made as quickly as it may have played out.
“Something like that, there’s a lot of moving pieces,” Fernandez said. “I talked to my athletic director about it. To our trainers and team doctors, because she’s not released to play. I didn’t talk to Geno until Laura and I sat down while we were in Cincinnati and she had some time to think about it and that’s how it came about.”
Ferreira wasn’t the only senior honored prior to the game. Kitija Laksa, who has been out since the third game of the season with a torn ACL and meniscus, was also honored but did not get a ceremonial spot in the starting lineup, as she has yet to decide whether she will declare a medical redshirt and play a fifth season at USF.
“We could have started her tonight just like we did Laura,” Fernandez said. “But the NCAA redshirt rules are different. It’s 30 percent of your season, but if you play one second the second half of the year, that redshirt year is null and void.”
The game itself was a wild one.
After Ferreira's ceremonial basket, the Bulls kept at it, leading by as many as nine points toward the end of the first quarter.
USF’s 29-25 halftime lead was the largest deficit the Huskies have ever faced at halftime in a conference game since the establishment of the AAC in 2013. It was only the second time ever the Huskies trailed in a conference game at halftime since the AAC’s formation — the only other deficit also came at the hand of USF on Feb. 29, 2016.
“I feel like honestly, we went out and we just tried to play for our seniors and for each other,” sophomore Shae Leverett said. “It’s hard — them not being able to play on their senior night. We just all came together. We just played for them, for each other and then it just translated.”
Pehadzic led all USF scorers with 15 points. She and junior Tamara Henshaw led all USF players with seven rebounds each, a big factor in the Bulls winning the rebound game by four.
“It’s simple. Defense starts with effort and I feel like everybody puts effort and we try to take pride in defense,” Pehadzic said. “Energy and effort is where it starts. If you don’t have that, you can’t play defense.”
UConn didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter when it went on a 9-0 run to end the game. Overall, the Huskies outscored the Bulls 12-4 in the game’s final 10 minutes.
But for a USF team that played the majority of its season without three of its five opening-night starters, a statement was made on a national stage. Despite all the absent talent — Laksa, Ferreira, freshman Beatriz Jordao and sophomore Silva Serrat — the Bulls gave the Huskies a scare.
“That’s just a whole different experience that they’ve had this year,” Auriemma said. “And they’ve been amazing with it. They really have. I don’t know that I could do it — what they’ve done.
“They win games, they’re in games. They compete just like as if nothing happened … they’ve really, really, I think done a magnificent job with this team this year. They really have.”