LUBBOCK, Texas — Inga Orekhova nearly helped the USF women make history Monday night.
Orekhova, USF's Ukrainian-born junior guard, nailed three pressure-packed free throws to send her team's second-round NCAA Tournament game against California into overtime, putting the Bulls five minutes from their first Sweet 16 appearance in school history.
But USF finally ran out of magic in overtime, as Cal moved on with an 82-78 victory.
With 21 seconds left in the extra session, and the Bulls trailing 81-78, USF had a chance to tie, but a held ball gave possession back to Cal. Afure Jemerigbe hit 1 of 2 free throws, and USF's final possession came up empty.
The loss stung, but 10th-seeded USF, which finished its season with a 22-11 record and its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, didn't leave West Texas without providing a plethora of memorable moments.
"It's going to hurt," USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "But this is something they're going to remember for a lifetime."
After the Bulls stormed all the way back from a 14-point deficit with less than eight minutes left in the game, Orekhova, who finished with 22 points, was fouled on a 3-point attempt with .7 seconds left, her team facing a 70-67 deficit.
She sank the first. She sank the second. Cal called a timeout.
It didn't matter. Her third attempt found the net, too, and the Bulls lived to play on.
"The only thing going through our mind was that I had to make them," Orekhova said.
In an earlier sequence, Orekhova had nailed a 3-pointer and Andrea Smith, after being fouled on a 3-point attempt, knocked down 2 of 3 free throws to cut the deficit to 69-67 with 11 seconds left.
It was all part of a 21-4 run to close regulation that featured heady play from Smith and sharp shooting from Orekhova, who averaged 21 points in two tournament games.
"One word," a teary-eyed Andrell Smith said. "Heart. We played hard the whole entire season. We faced adversity before and we know how to keep our composure. These girls have big hearts and our coaches have big hearts, so we just fueled off that."
USF never ran out of heart, but it finally ran out of gas.
With forward Akila McDonald fouling out early in the overtime period, second-seeded Cal (30-3) was able to exploit its advantage inside just enough hold off the hard-charging Bulls.
Andrea Smith scored 24 in her final college game, 19 in the second half and overtime. Her twin Andrell chipped in 12 points.
Cal guard Layshia Clarendon led all scorers with 27.
"I think our guys showed all year long that we can play with anybody in the country," Fernandez said. "We did that tonight."