Crucial win for USF women at Villanova
Needing a road win to finish the regular season at .500 in Big East play, USF pulled out a huge 52-50 win at Villanova on Monday night, beating the Wildcats at their own game. Senior guard Jazmine Sepulveda got a steal and the winning basket with seven seconds left to give USF's NCAA Tournament chances a huge boost.
USF (21-9, 8-8 in Big East) took a big step toward reaching the NCAAs for only the second time in school history. USF's biggest lead of the game was the final margin -- they had only one other lead in the entire game and trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half. The Bulls got 15 points from senior center Jessica Lawson, with fellow senior Brittany Denson adding 11 points. Senior guard Shantia Grace added 10 points -- five in the final three minutes -- and the Bulls won despite going 1-for-12 on 3-point attempts.
USF trailed 48-43 with 2:30 to play, but finished the game on a 9-2 run. Grace hit a jumper, then Denson added two on a putback to cut the Villanova lead to one with 1:34 to play. After Villanova went up again by three, Grace converted a 3-point play to tie the game with 40 seconds left. After a Villanova timeout with 19 seconds left, Sepulveda stole the ball from Siobhan O'Connor and scored the go-ahead basket. O'Connor missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to seal the win for USF.
Georgetown's unexpected loss at Seton Hall means the Bulls will finish no lower than ninth in the Big East standings -- they could finish in the top eight and earn a first-round bye in this weekend's conference tournament if Marquette loses to Louisville late tonight.
The Bulls came in with a high-tempo offense matched up against Villanova's plodding, defensive game. USF had been 1-7 when scoring fewer than 70 points, but the Bulls held the Wildcats to 23 percent shooting in the second half.
The win is USF's fifth this season against an RPI top 50 team -- Villanova came in with an RPI of 36, according to CollegeRPI.com. USF came in at 48. More good news for USF: ESPN.com's NCAA projections had USF as one of the "last four in" for the NCAA field -- before Monday's victory.
And looking entirely too far ahead, ESPN.com's projected field has USF as a No. 12 seed, with an opening-round date in Seattle ... against fifth-seeded Florida.