Jazmine Sepulveda scored 18 points and Shantia Grace had 16, leading South Florida to a 75-71 victory over Kansas on Saturday in the WNIT finals, giving the school its first postseason championship of any kind.
Jessica Lawson added 13 points for South Florida, including a key free throw in the final minute as the Bulls (27-10) held off a late Kansas run and won their third game in three different states in six days. South Florida had to win three straight road games to win the tourney. Danielle Starzynski was absent in game play due to a heart injury but was there in presence cheering her team on.
Danielle McCray had 24 points for Kansas (22-14) and pushed her tournament total to 147, a WNIT record.
The game attracted 16,113 fans, the largest home crowd for a women's game in Big 12 history. The Jayhawks averaged only 2,555 at home in the regular season.
The record crowd got a quick-paced, hard-fought game. In one furious possession in the first half, the Jayhawks missed four straight shots from point-blank range but each time got the offensive rebound. Finally, McCray got a put-back.
Sade Morris had 19 points for Kansas, which won nine of its last 11 to reach the school's first national championship game in women's basketball. Aishah Sutherland had 12 and Kyrsten Boogaard 10.
Janae Stokes, as the time clock was about to expire, drilled a long 3-pointer with 5:27 to go that gave the Bulls what looked like a safe lead at 65-53.
But then in a game of alternating streaks, the Jayhawks unfurled a 13-2 run, seeming to gather energy from their record crowd, and shaved the lead to 67-66 on a bucket by Boogaard.
But Lawson banked home a shot and then added a free throw to make it 70-66.
The Jayhawks had the ball with about 1 minute left needing a 3-pointer to tie, but Sutherland threw it away and the Bulls inbounded with 51 seconds to go.
Grace, South Florida's All-Big East point guard, dribbled around the Kansas defense and fed Sepulveda, whose 10-footer from the baseline put the Bulls on top 72-67 with less than 30 seconds to play.
After Sade Morris' free throw brought Kansas to 72-68, Lawson was immediately fouled and the 6-foot-3 senior hit one. Grace added two more free throws before McCray canned a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Sepulveda and Porche Grant led the Bulls on a 14-2 run closing out the first half and took a 38-30 lead into intermission.
Celebrate With The Champs
All USF fans are encouraged to meet the WNIT Champion USF Women's Basketball Team upon their arrival at Tampa International Airport.
The team will be arriving on Southwest Airlines Flight 2714 at 10:20 am Sunday.
Please note that parking is free for the first hour, but if you can’t make it to TIA, fan are welcome to meet the team as they arrive back on USF’s campus and the Sun Dome.
USF President Judy Genshaft
"USF women's basketball has made history! The women's team and its coaches, especially Jose Fernandez, deserve all of our congratulations! They showed the nation they are a championship team. We are so proud of you all."
USF Head Coach Jose Fernandez
“First of all, I want to comment on what a great basketball atmosphere this was. I’ve been at South Florida for nine years, and we’ve played at a lot of places, but this atmosphere was totally tremendous. Coming into an arena like this, that is so rich with history, was special, especially for our seniors. They finished their careers in Allen Fieldhouse, and that is something they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives. I think it was a great championship game. I want to recognize Kansas’ efforts and what a great job Bonnie (Henrickson) has done and what they did to get here. I couldn’t be prouder of our kids, coming into this environment and winning on the road.”
On the solid defense on KU’s Danielle McCray:
“We had (Jazmine) Sepulveda on her a lot. We were in a no-catch situation with her. Anytime that they interchanged on the baseline, we switches on those screens. What we did with (Janae) Stokes and Shantia (Grace) was to go double her off of the catch and into the dribble just to get the ball out of her hands. I think she’s an unbelievable future. She’s going to be a pro. She’s got 3-point range and a great body. She can get to the rim. We were really concerned with her, even more so for the numbers that she’s put in during the last 10 games of the season.
Senior Guard Shantia Grace
On the game:
“I just had to sit-back and take care of the ball and let the game come to me. I had a couple bad shots at the beginning of the game, so I just had to settle down. In the second half, I was the go-to player so I had to suck it up and play hard. I had to get my team going.”
On the crowd:
“At first, it was loud. It was so loud that my ears were ringing and I couldn’t hear myself breathe. It was loud. But after you play for a couple minutes, you just tune the crowd out and play your game. We’ve been playing well on the road all year, in the Big East and in the WNIT. We knew that the crowd wouldn’t be a factor if we just stayed together and played hard.”
Freshman Guard Jasmine Wynne
On the crowd:
“We had to stay together. The crowd can’t score, so we decided that we had to stay together as a team.”
Sophomore guard Danielle Starzynski
On Not Playing in the Championship game:
"It was rough having to sit back and just watch everything happen, especially in a championship game and such a huge environment with a big crowd. I wanted to be out on that court so bad helping my team and really playing a part in this game because this is history right here. But i just had to sit back and cheer my team on though and it still feels good i'm still really proud of my them i knew we'd pull this win off and i'm proud to say atleast i came here and walked away with a title. This also throws a slap in people's faces that thought we shouldn't have made the ncaa tournament because obviously we're contenders. I'm just excited right now it feels great."