Couch-side analysis: UCLA 72, USF 67
Mortality was winning the staredown with USF's women midway through Monday night's game against UCLA. Twenty minutes in, the Bulls couldn't score, rebound or find a rhythm.
Here's what else they couldn't let themselves do: blink
As a result, Coach Jose Fernandez's squad (24-10) rallied to nearly stage the most surreal, significant victory in USF women's basketball lore.
Some clutch Bruins free-throw shooting down the stretch, not to mention a controversial possession call under UCLA's basket with 33.9 seconds to play, enabled UCLA to escape with a 72-67 victory in the NCAA Tournament's second round.
As a result, the most successful senior class in school history -- propelled by future pros Alisia Jenkins and Courtney Williams -- ends its sparkling career with no Sweet 16 trips, and certainly no quit.
"It will be a tough locker room when we go in there," associate head coach Jeff Osterman said on the Bulls radio broadcast immediately afterward. "But the positive is that we came out the second half and we competed."
Held to 24 points and four offensive rebounds in the first half, the Bulls -- down 40-24 after 20 minutes -- burst from the locker room and completely altered the game's ebb and flow. USF, which had more than twice as many turnovers (nine) as offensive rebounds (four) at intermission, won the offensive glass battle, 12-10 in the second half.
Leading the interior assertion was Jenkins (23 points, nine rebounds), who scored nine in the third, when USF outscored the Bruins, 23-10.
Meantime, Williams -- a sure-fire first-round pick in next month's WNBA Draft -- found her trademark rhythm, from everywhere.
Scoreless on seven shot attempts after one quarter, Williams finished with 29, her 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining -- off a designed play after a timeout -- cutting USF's deficit to 67-65. The Bruins responded, however, hitting five of six free throws the rest of the way.
It sealed what surely will go down as the most disputable defeat the Bulls have suffered.
Trailing by three with 33.9 seconds to go, fifth-year senior PG Shalethia Stringfield -- trying to save the ball from going out of bounds under UCLA's basket -- made a one-handed flick that clearly bounced off the hand of Bruins F Lajahna Drummer. Even after a lengthy review, officials gave the ball to the Bruins.
As a result, the Bulls were forced to foul, and UCLA sophomore Jordin Canada hit two free throws with 25 seconds remaining to give UCLA a five-point lead.
And in the end, the same collection of eyes that never blinked likely elicited tears.