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Bulls beat Golden Eagles in overtime, advance to second round of NCAA tournament

Senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu scored 11 points in the third quarter of the opening round of the NCAA tournament. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu split two free throws to give No. 8 South Florida a 67-65 lead with seven seconds remaining in overtime against Marquette in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in Columbia, South Carolina.

With their season on the line, the Bulls’ (27-6) defense sealed the victory on Friday after Golden Eagles (21-11) freshman guard Mackenzie Hare’s three-point attempt rimmed out.

Coach Jose Fernandez said he was proud of the way his team held their ground in the game’s closing moments.

“[I am] really proud of our kids, the plays that we made defensively at the end of the game to finish it off. This is what March Madness is all about, because your next game could be your last one for the season.”

During the first half of overtime, neither team was able to gain separation. Momentum shifted in South Florida’s favor when Marquette senior forward Chloe Marotta was called for her fifth foul, disqualifying her for the rest of the contest with less than three minutes remaining.

Marotta had a game-high 25 points, including 11 straight in the third quarter. Her teammate, junior forward Liza Karlen, had fouled out 20 seconds earlier. Fernandez said Marotta and Karlen’s early exits gave South Florida an advantage inside the paint.

“They’re a different team when [Marotta and Karlen] are not in the game. So what we needed to do was try to get the ball inside to Dulcy and they had to get a smaller perimeter guy to play the [power forward],” Fernandez said.

Senior guard Elena Tsineke made the Bulls’ lone three-pointer to put the Bulls up 59-55 in the fourth quarter. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Marquette’s post defense cost them when Tsineke hit a mid-range jumper with 30 seconds left in overtime.

Tsineke only scored two points on one-for-nine shooting prior to the fourth quarter. She would eventually catch fire, scoring 11 points in the fourth and overtime to lead South Florida (27-6) back into the game. She said she was focused on contributing to the game in any way she could despite her rough shooting in the first three quarters of regulation.

“I didn’t want to leave this game without doing something for the team, so I had to take responsibility,” Tsineke said.

Senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu had 22 points and 16 rebounds, while also breaking a program record for most rebounds in a season. The previous record-holder was former Bulls forward Alisia Jenkins with 397.

South Florida advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in program history. The team also tied a program record with 27 wins in a season.

On Sunday, USF will have the chance to clinch its first Sweet 16 berth when it faces title favorite No. 1 South Carolina. The Gamecocks (33-0) are on a 36-game winning streak dating back to March 6, 2022.

Fernandez said their experience playing teams like NC State and Texas will help them in the hostile environment against the defending NCAA champions.

“I don’t think we’re gonna be fazed by South Carolina. They are very good, but it’s a great opportunity…” Fernandez said.

“They’re very well coached and they’re very talented. We’re going to have to play exceptionally well. We’re going to have to shoot the ball exceptionally well and we’re going to have to do a very good job in the paint and on the glass.”

Tipoff for women’s basketball’s matchup against South Carolina is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday. The game will be televised on ABC.