For the second consecutive year, the USF women’s basketball season came to a screeching halt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Tallahassee. This time though, it was worse. Incredibly worse. The sixth-seeded Bulls were run off the court by a different Bulls squad from Buffalo, 102-79.
“Buffalo was special tonight. This is what sports is all about,” head coach Jose Fernandez said. “We make no excuses. We got beat by a better team today. I think our kids battled, they fought, they played hard and they competed but we ran into a team that was very, very good today from all facets.”
Senior forward Maria Jespersen, playing her final game in a USF uniform, was off and running early with seven points and five rebounds at the first media timeout helping the Bulls to a 12-4 lead over Buffalo.
Jespersen capped off her USF career with yet another #DenmarkDouble, finishing with 23 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. The senior was visibly emotional when she checked out for the final time late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s hard when they make shots like that,” Jespersen said. “We fought, we had to adjust and guard the arc harder. A lot of credit to Buffalo, they played extremely well.”
Junior sharpshooter Kitija Laksa paced the Bulls to a 20-11 lead at the end of one quarter and finished with a team-high 28 points, shooting 5-for-12 from three-point range and pulling in two boards.
But then it happened.
The runner-up finishers in the MAC, the Buffalo Bulls exploded for a 24-9 surge to end the first half and simply, never looked back.
The Bulls from the northeast could NOT miss. Buffalo finished the first half shooting a toasty 50% (7-of-14) from behind the arc to grab a 43-38 halftime lead.
“We were up nine going into the second quarter and we didn’t close the half. That run was huge, where they hit three threes in that final three and a half minutes,” Fernandez added. “Everything went in that third quarter, they shoot 65 percent from the floor. It didn’t give us an opportunity to get back into the game with how well they were shooting the ball.”
Despite a solid effort on the boards in the first half, USF couldn’t rebound anything close in the second half. Granted, the chances of grabbing a rebound were low as everything the blue and white Bulls put up was sinking down.
For the game, Buffalo shot an impressive 53% from the floor and an astounding 52% from three-point range (14-of-27) to absolutely bury USF.
Defending the three was a problem early in the season as well and it came back to haunt the Bulls to end their season.
Today reminds me of a practice @USFWBB had in December after GW and Oklahoma rained threes all over them. Coach Fernandez spend the good majority of it working out closing out on shooters. The problem cropped up again today and this is the result. Very disappointing end to year.— Nathan Bond (@BullsNathanSBN) March 17, 2018
Buffalo (28-5) scored 25 points off 16 green and gold Bulls turnovers and outrebounded USF 32-29. The 102 points allowed by USF is the most ever by a team not named UConn since 2001 vs FAU.
[Ed. Note: Nathan wrote the following part]
This was a truly disappointing end to a season that had so much promise with Jespersen and Laia Flores back as seniors. Where do the Bulls go from here? It appears like they’ve hit their ceiling. Getting to the second weekend seems more and more unlikely as seasons come and go.
[Back to Connor here]
So do we continue to write things like this? And this? And go on rants like here? Is it worth it?
I know that I will never forget Jespersen and Flores and these remarkably talented teams putting together four straight tournament trips, but I also know that I will never forget the letdown and disappointment that came with them.
That elusive weekend escapes again...and maybe it always will.