USF women surge into WNIT semifinals
In a span of nine days, USF's women's basketball team has piled up more postseason wins than in its entire history up to this season, the latest an 80-66 win at St. Bonaventure on Sunday that puts the Bulls in the Women's NIT semifinals Wednesday at Boston College.
Sunday's win was formulaic for USF's strong play in the past month -- balanced scoring led by the team's senior leaders and a strong rebounding presence inside. Senior center Jessica Lawson went 7-for-7 from the field, finishing with 14 points and 14 rebounds; senior guard Shantia Grace had 20 points, including a 13-for-13 effort on free throws. Three other Bulls -- guards Jazmine Sepulveda and Janae Stokes and forward Brittany Denson -- also scored in double figures.
The Bulls (25-10) continue to extend the school basketball record for wins in a season, and Sunday's came before a crowd of 4,133. Up next is Boston College, which has eliminated Big East teams in its last two rounds, beating St. John's and Georgetown. The two schools were arguably the major-conference schools most slighted by the NCAA selection committee in not making the cut for the NCAA Tournament. Lots more to come from this game -- here's Sunday's game story from USF's official site, as well as the game story from the Buffalo News.
-- Some of you have asked if USF might host the WNIT final if the Bulls can win on Wednesday. The simple answer is (1) yes, it's possible and (2) no, it's unlikely. USF has put in bids to host all rounds of the tournament, but the WNIT organizers will certainly be aware of attendance levels when they choose the site of their championship games.
USF and Boston College, while the highest RPI teams left in the tournament, haven't had nearly the same postseason following as the other three teams remaining in the field (New Mexico and Kansas face off in the last quarterfinal Monday night.)
Boston College won the bid for Wednesday's game despite averaging just 588 fans for its two home games in the WNIT so far; USF is slightly ahead in averaging 724. Neither can compare with the other three schools -- Kansas averaged 1,929 in its two home games, Illinois State averaged 2,370 in its three home games, and New Mexico, which hosts tonight's game, has averaged 4,121 in three home games. So the championship game is likely to draw at least twice as many fans by putting the USF-BC winner on the road. Attendance isn't the only thing the WNIT looks at, but it seems to be a significant factor here.
-- I was out of town most of the weekend, and since Saturday's football scrimmage was said to be completely closed to the media (with players and coaches available afterwards), we opted not to staff it. Here's the windy post-practice interview with Jim Leavitt from USF's official site -- not a lot of specific details about the scrimmage, but some general positivity about the team.
-- Softball, which won the Big East regular-season crown with a 16-4 league record last season, is off to a 7-5 start after losing their last three games this weekend. The Bulls outhit Notre Dame 9-3 in Sunday's first game but lost 3-2, then gave up six runs in the final two innings -- all credited to starter Kristen Gordon -- in a 6-4 loss in the second game. Senior Cristi Ecks pitched a two-hit complete-game in Saturday's 2-1 win at Villanova before an 8-0 loss.