In front of one of the most raucous Sun Dome crowds in years, USF women's basketball advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons with a 73-64 win over LSU at the Sun Dome on Saturday.
Courtney Williams broke USF's all-time single-season scoring record with the 15th of her 19 points on the evening, finishing with 687 on the season despite being held to 7-25 from the floor. Her teammates filled the efficiency void very effectively, with freshman Maria Jespersen shooting 5-5 for 11 points, and junior Alisia Jenkins fighting off first half foul trouble to end with 4-6 shooting and 7-8 from the foul line for 15 points.
"It's a feeling I will never forget. I've never played a game with so many people supporting you," Jespersen said.
USF (27-7) pulled ahead by as many as 12 in the first half, but a strong final four minutes by LSU (18-13) was capped by a Bulls defensive blunder on an underneath out-of-bounds play with 1.2 seconds left that cut it to 38-32 at the intermission.
The home team came out firing to open the second stanza behind back-to-back three pointers for freshman guard Laura Ferreira, her only scoring of the game. It doubled the sixth-seeded Bulls advantage, who would never lead by less than 10 until just 13 seconds remaining.
USF's ability to attack the basket was rewarded 29 free throw attempts, including 20 in the first half. A tightly called game favored the quicker and more athletic Bulls, who entered the double bonus with eight minutes left in opening period. USF wasn't super efficient at just .973 points per possession, but their tenacity and effort defensively held the eleventh-seeded Tigers to just .877.
"Our athletic department and our student body... the atmosphere that was in the arena tonight was incredible," Fernandez said. LSU Coach Nikki Caldwell was also impressed by a rollocking Sun Dome. "Playing in environments where there's a lot of fans, that's what you want for the women's game. You want rowdy crowds."
The Bulls will host former Metro, C-USA, and Big East Conference rivals Louisville with the first Sweet Sixteen in program history on the line on Monday night. The Cardinals defeated an outmatched BYU team 86-53 earlier at the Sun Dome behind 19 points from Myisha Hines-Allen & 13 from Jude Schimmel.
Tip off is set for 9pm live on ESPN2.