On an emotional senior night for USF women’s basketball as they honored senior guard Kitija Laksa and redshirt senior wing Laura Ferreira, the Bulls fell to the No. 2 University of Connecticut Huskies 57-47 despite leading 29-25 at halftime.
USF got an emotional lift from Ferreira, who suited up and started for the first time in two months after being diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, a heart condition that showed itself through palpitations, started and scored the first two points of the game for the Bulls before being subbed out to a standing ovation from the crowd.
“That’s a tough hand she was dealt. I always liked the kids’ spunk,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “I liked the way she plays, and her demeanor on the floor, and [USF head coach] Jose [Fernandez] said he wanted to do something, and I have some experience with these issues so I’m glad we were able to put something together.”
The Bulls rode that wave of emotion through the first quarter and jumped out to an early 11-4 lead with just over three minutes played. USF pushed the lead to nine right before Husky guard Crystal Dangerfield hit a three as the buzzer sounded to cut the USF lead to 17-11.
UConn climbed back into the game in the second quarter and took a two point lead on a Napheesa Collier jumper midway through the quarter. The Bulls regained the lead shortly after and guard Sydni Harvey hit a three to give the Bulls a 29-25 lead at the break.
Then the wheels started to fall off.
UConn came out in the second half with an ultra-aggressive defensive attack as they pressed and trapped every time a Bulls touched the ball and it resulted in four-straight USF turnovers and a one-point deficit. USF turned it over 10 times in the first 3:58 of the third quarter to help the Huskies take a six point lead.
“In the third quarter when they started to double and trap everywhere, we had some [players] stand and not flash [to the ball] and that got them going,” Fernandez said. “In that third quarter, we could’ve gotten knocked out, but it didn’t happen and we fought back.”
Redshirt sophomore Enna Pehadzic hit a jumper to begin the fourth quarter to tie the game at 45-45, and USF would only score once more on another Pehadzic jumper the rest of the way as the Huskies slowly built their lead.
What this team has done this year after losing Laksa, Ferreira, Beatriz Jordao, Silvia Serrat (before the season even started) for the entire year, plus Alyssa Rader, Elisa Pinzan, Sydni Harvey for a couple weeks at a time is truly remarkable. If this team is healthy, they’re a second weekend NCAA Tournament team. Basketball Gods.
Laksa remains undecided about her future. She’s eligible to take a redshirt this year, which is why she did not suit up like Ferreira because NCAA rules state if a player plays at any point during the last half the year, the redshirt is null-and-void. She was a consensus top-20 WNBA pick prior to her injury.
“If I could have a dollar for every person that has asked me if she’s coming back, I could make a really big donation to the Football Practice Facility,” Fernandez said.
The job Fernandez and his staff have done this season is worthy of the statue that should already be built for this man.
“We’ve had to deal with it for maybe a week, 10 days top,” Auriemma said about the cavalcade of injuries this year for USF. “But not to the extent, and for as long as they’ve had to deal with it. That’s a different experience they’ve had this year and they’ve been amazing with it. I don’t know if I could do it. They win games, they’re in games, they compete just like as if nothing happened...They’ve really, really done a magnificent job with this team this year.”
- UConn was without sharpshooter Katie Lou Samuelson (back). But we all know why she didn’t play:
Really appreciate UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson sitting out tonight's game as a nod to her mortal enemy Kitija Laksa also missing tonight.— The Daily Stampede (@StampedeSBN) March 4, 2019
Always remember though: Kit was the Freshman of the Year.
- Pehadzic finished with 15 points (6-of-22, 1-of-8 from three) and seven rebounds
- Shae Leverette added six points, four rebounds, three blocks, three steals, and two assists. She put some stank on two of her block which was very nice.
- USF out-rebounded UConn 39-35 and recorded 12 offensive boards.