TAMPA - The Bulls nearly made Big East history in their
final audition for the NCAA tournament Sunday afternoon in Hartford, Conn.
No-fear USF had a four-point lead with less than 11 minutes
to go before No. 2 Notre Dame rallied past the Bulls, 75-66, at the XL Center.
Achonwa posted 20 points and 20 rebounds to help Notre Dame (29-1) avoid being
the first top-seeded team to fall in the Big East quarterfinals since the
tournament started in 1983.
The Bulls (21-10) took Notre Dame to overtime in the team's
first meeting of the season and Sunday's game proved it was no fluke as USF
eyes its first NCAA tournament bid since 2006.
Andrell Smith tied a career high with 27 points and hit five
of USF's 10 3-pointers while passing the 1,000-point mark as a Bull. Andrea
Smith scored 18 points a day after passing the 1,000-point mark and Inga
Orekhova finished with 11 points.
USF started 1-for-10 from the field but still found a way to
become the aggressor early on. Orekhova scored five quick points and her
3-pointer highlighted the Bulls' opening 14-10 run. The Irish started 22
percent from the field while Andrea Smith's 3-pointer spotted USF a 19-13 lead
more than midway through the opening period.
Notre Dame's 11 forced turnovers paved the way for a 37-31
halftime lead but USF still found a way to grab the momentum heading into the
locker room. Andrell Smith scored eight points in the final 1 minute, 15
seconds and made a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to go before the break.
The Smith twins stayed hot early in the second half to help
the Bulls tied the game at 41. Andrea Smith's 3-pointer sparked a 10-run that
featured seven points by Andrell Smith within the first four minutes.
USF's ninth 3-pointer of the game came from Orekhova and
gave the Bulls a 51-47 lead with 11:38 remaining. Notre Dame regrouped and
grabbed a 57-53 lead with 8:27 to go with Big East Player of the Year Skylar Diggins'
first points of the half.
Andrell Smith's 3-pointer got USF within one with 7:33 to go
but that's as close as the Bulls got the rest of the way. Diggins finished with
15 points, Jewell Loyd added 14 points and Kayla McBride scored 10 points as
Notre Dame advanced to Monday's 6 p.m. semifinal matchup with Louisville.