Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sports

USF women earn first NCAA Tournament win

LUBBOCK, Texas — The noise came crashing like a wave on South Florida.

Texas Tech's boisterous crowd had surged against the Bulls for almost 40 minutes, and with less than a minute left, the volume reached a fever pitch.

Straight into that hostile background, Andrell Smith, Tiffany Conner and Alisia Jenkins stepped up, one by one, and knocked down some of the biggest free throws of their lives.

And thus 10th-seeded USF earned its first NCAA Tournament win ever, 71-70, against No. 7 seed and host Texas Tech before an announced crowd of 6,062.

"We work on a lot of those game situations in practice," said coach Jose Fernandez, who earned his first NCAA Tournament win in 13 seasons at USF. "It showed that our kids were never rattled down the stretch."

USF meets California, the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Region, in the second round at 9:30 p.m. Monday on ESPN2.

Inga Orekhova led the Bulls (22-10) with 20 points on 5-of-9 3-point shooting. None was bigger than the corner 3 with 1:09 left that tied it at 66. She shot a split-second after getting the pass from Andrea Smith, Andrell's twin.

"I came in with the attitude that we had to win," Orekhova said. "When I was coming off the screen and shooting the 3, it had to go in. I had the mentality that it had to go in."

From there the Bulls clamped down on defense, forcing the Raiders into two contested jumpers in the final minute that found nothing but iron.

With 23 seconds left, Andrell Smith was fouled by Monique Smalls as the Tech guard tried to swat away an inbounds pass. Smith calmly sank both free throws to give USF a 68-66 edge.

Conner (1 of 2) and Jenkins (2 of 2) also sank free throws that proved to be crucial when Tech's Casey Morris hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to trim the final margin to one point.

The game began to shift five minutes into the second half. That was when Andrell Smith (13 points) took charge and scored seven straight points to help the Bulls build a seven-point lead.

"I knew I had to do what I do best," Smith said, "and that's attacking and playing hard."

Fans watching on ESPN2 late in the game had to settle for audio only. ESPN issued a statement saying that its production truck "suffered a complete power loss due to a blown fuse."

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