Seniors lead Bulls into WNIT quarterfinals
TAMPA -- Senior guard Shantia Grace, playing on her home floor for perhaps the final time, had a game-high 18 points and seven assists to lead USF to a 74-57 win against Mississippi on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the Women's NIT.
The Bulls (24-10) have won back-to-back postseason games for the first time in their history, and will travel to face the winner of Thursday's Wisconsin-St. Bonaventure game, likely on Sunday. USF could still potentially host games in the final two rounds if the Bulls continue to win.
USF trailed by 10 in the first half and by two at halftime, but four starting seniors -- Grace, Jazmine Sepulveda, Jessica Lawson and Brittany Denson -- all scored in a 16-4 run to open the half, giving USF a 54-44 lead before a crowd of 636 in the Sun Dome.
"Those four seniors -- I told Jaz to tell those guys (at halftime) 'Don't let this be the last 20 minutes of your career, especially on your home floor,'" coach Jose Fernandez said. "They came out and took care of business in the second half."
Mississippi (18-15) wouldn't get closer than five points from then on, with USF's seniors leading the way. The Rebels scored just two points in the final 8:50 of the game.
Junior Janae Stokes had 13 points, all in a five-minute span of the first half, to help the Bulls overcome an early 14-4 deficit.
"She's the type of kid that can get on a roll and thinks that basket is four feet wide," Fernandez said. "Everything she throws up."
Lawson had 10 points and eight rebounds, and junior Porche Grant had a double-double off the bench with 10 and 10.