Despite blowing a lead in the final seconds of regulation, the No. 22 USF women’s basketball team rallied for a seventh straight win, defeating UCF 77-68 in overtime on Sunday afternoon at CFE Arena.
Both teams struggled shooting out of the gate, but the Bulls grabbed an 8-7 lead at the first media timeout. Things finally picked up for USF when star guard Kitija Laksa and Laura Ferreira drained back-to-back threes to give the Bulls a 17-16 lead and force UCF into a timeout.
Laksa finished with a team-high 32 points, shooting 5-for-15 from three-point range and a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line. It’s the fourth 30-plus point performance from Laksa this season.
USF (22-5, 11-2 AAC) led 35-28 at halftime before allowing an early second half Knights push to tie the game at 40. Another #DenmarkDouble for senior forward Maria Jespersen wasn’t enough for the Bulls to pull away though, who led only 47-45 at the end of three quarters.
Jespersen finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
Aided by two missed Alyssa Rader layups, the Knights grabbed a 57-52 lead on the heels of a 10-0 run with under five minutes to play. Trailing 57-54 with under two minutes remaining, Laksa hit a three-ball from deep before Jespersen followed with one of her own to put the Bulls back in front, 60-57.
A Knights layup and a few Bulls free throws made the score 62-59 with 10 seconds remaining before Zakiya Saunders drained the Knights FIRST three of the afternoon to send the game to overtime. It was just the 38th made three-pointer this season for UCF.
UCF (17-9, 9-4 AAC) finished the game 1-for-5 (that ONE was a big ONE) from behind the arc, while USF finished 11-for-32 (34%) from distance. The Bulls were sloppy for big stretches, shooting 39% from the floor (22-of-56) and turned it over 20 times.
Fueled by threes from Jespersen and Laia Flores, the Bulls outscored the Knights 15-6 in the overtime period to pull away and win 77-68. USF shot 60% the floor and 50% from long range in the extra five minutes.
The Bulls have now won 21 of their last 22 games against the Knights, and extend their second-place lead in the conference standings with three games left to play.
USF returns home this Wednesday night to face Houston, and can lock up the #2 seed in the American Conference Tournament with a win. Tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.