By Charlie Terenzio
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – When USF needed someone to step up and take control of the game, Kaneisha Saunders and Andrell Smith took over.
The Bulls tied the game in the last second of regulation on a pair of free throws from Smith, and Saunders took over in overtime to give USF its fourth straight win, 86-80 over Central Michigan.
“I was pleased that we were able to come out with a win. It has been tough for us. We have played five games in a seven game stretch,” head coach Jose Fernandez said.
Saunders led the way offensively with 23 points, her highest total of the season, 18 of which came in the second half and overtime, and Smith kicked-in 15 of her own including a few big threes late to give the Bulls their highest point total of the 2011-12 season.
“Kaneisha Saunders did some big things in overtime and Andrell hit some big free throws, and a huge shot in overtime,” Fernandez said.
The Bulls found themselves down two points with 2 seconds remaining in the game, but Smith was fouled while attempting a three with .4 seconds left to send her to the line with a chance to extend the game.
Smith missed the first as it rolled around the rim, but was able to hit the last two to send the game to overtime, the second OT game of the season for the Bulls.
“I knew I was going to make the next two. My coach gave me the confidence to hit them,” Smith said.
Saunders scored eight of the Bulls’ 12 points in the extra period, and Smith scored the other five including a three with 1:28 to put the Bulls ahead for good.
“The good thing is that we found a way to win. We found a way to make some plays down the stretch,” Fernandez said.
The Bulls went up 2-0 to begin the game, but quickly fell behind a Chippewa team that played close games against Northwestern and Pittsburgh earlier in the season. USF fought back to take a 37-30 lead at the half, behind a team-high eight first half points from Shalethia Stringfield who finished with a career-high 11.
Both teams went back-and-forth in the second half with CMU eventually stretching their lead to five, 72-67, with 1:05 remaining, but free throws by Saunders and a clutch three by Smith with 23 seconds left tied the game.
Central Michigan hit a pair of free throws to take the lead with 4 seconds left, but Smith’s heroics gave USF a second life, which they capitalized on.
The Bulls will look to win the Great Alaska Shootout when they take on the winner of Alaska-Anchorage and No. 9 Miami at 8 p.m. EST/4 p.m. ASK on Thursday.