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USF falls to UCF in AAC women’s tournament final

In wresting the tournament title from the defending champs, the Knights beat the Bulls for the third time this season.
USF center Shae Leverett, left, fights for possession of the ball with UCF forward Brittney Smith, right, during the AAC women's basketball tournament championship game Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. UCF won, 53-45.
USF center Shae Leverett, left, fights for possession of the ball with UCF forward Brittney Smith, right, during the AAC women's basketball tournament championship game Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. UCF won, 53-45. [ Ben Solomon/American Athletic Conference ]
Published Mar. 11|Updated Mar. 11

The UCF women’s basketball team got in one last shot at its arch rival Thursday night, beating USF 53-45 in the AAC tournament championship game for the Knights’ third victory over the Bulls this season.

In a tight battle from start to finish in Forth Worth, Texas, No. 25 UCF put the nation’s top defense (48.1 points a game) on display. The Knights were particularly tough in the final quarter, when they held the Bulls to only six points and didn’t allow a field goal for more than nine minutes.

“It’s really tough to get the (AAC) tournament championship game and play as well as we did (for the first three quarters) and then not close it out,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “Usually, we close out these types of games. We make the plays. But (Thursday), we didn’t. (UCF) made the plays that made the difference in the end.”

Through the first three quarters, it appeared USF (24-8) was more than ready to defend its AAC tournament title over the favored Knights (25-3). USF, in fact, led 13-10 after the first quarter, 26-24 at the half and 39-37 entering the final quarter.

Then the Bulls went cold, missing their next nine shots from the field.

USF forward Bethy Mununga dribbles downcourt as UCF guard Diamond Battles defends during the AAC women's basketball tournament championship game Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas.
USF forward Bethy Mununga dribbles downcourt as UCF guard Diamond Battles defends during the AAC women's basketball tournament championship game Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. [ Ben Solomon/American Athletic Conference ]

“I think we got in a hurry in some moments,” Fernandez said. “But you also have to give UCF a lot of credit. They are good team. They play great defense.”

Specifically, Fernandez pointed to the game’s turnover stats. In the first half, USF had only six turnovers, but finished the game with 17. UCF entered the game forcing opponents into an average of 19.96 turnovers. Fernandez also highlighted rebounding, where UCF held a 39-33 advantage.

The absence of sharp-shooting guard Maria Alvarez — who didn’t play in any of USF’s three tournament games after twisting her ankle in last week’s regular-season finale — may have hurt the Bulls a bit, though Fernandez said he wasn’t going to make excuses.

“The group that played (Thursday) has been there before,” Fernandez said. “They know what to do.”

Diamond Battles scored a game-high 17 points to lead UCF. Masseny Kaba had nine points and nine rebounds. Destiny Thomas added seven points and nine boards for the Knights.

Guard Elena Tsineke led the Bulls with 14 points, followed by forward Shae Leverett (10), guard Elisa Pinzan (nine) and forward Bethy Mununga (seven points, 11 rebounds).

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