TALLAHASSEE, Fla., MARCH 17, 2017 – Clutch Kitija Laksa hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left in regulation before USF’s impressive 2016-17 season ended in heartbreaking fashion with a 66-64 loss to Missouri in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Sixth-seeded Missouri (22-10) led by six with less than two minutes remaining and advanced on a last-second layup by Sierra Michaelis at FSU’s Donald L. Tucker Center. No. 11 seed USF (24-9) took a 13-point lead into halftime in the program’s fourth NCAA tournament trip in the past five seasons.
Senior Ariadna Pujol (Mataro, Spain) got the Bulls going early with 16 of her game-high 20 points in the first half. Pujol went 6-for-12 from the field and made three of USF’s eight 3-pointers.
Laksa (Riga, Latvia) added to her program sophomore season scoring record with 19 points. Laksa finished the season with 634 points, good for fifth on USF’s all-time scoring list.
Laia Flores finished her stellar junior season with 11 points, four rebounds and set a new USF NCAA tournament record with eight assists. The point guard from Mataro, Spain also owns the program’s season assist record with 200, 10 ahead of Anedra Gilmore’s previous top mark in 2004-05.
First team all-conference selection Maria Jespersen (Arhus, Denmark) scored nine points and grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds, just one short of her career high.
Making its third straight NCAA tournament appearance, USF showed its postseason poise early, knocking down six 3-pointers and shooting 50 percent on the way to a 38-25 halftime lead.
Missouri opened the game on a 9-0 run and USF responded in a big way with a 12-0 run of its own. Pujol led the charge with seven points, including two layups off steals. Pujol’s 10 points powered USF to a 19-14 lead by the end of the first quarter that saw the Bulls score 10 points off turnovers.
USF regained the lead in the second quarter during a 13-0 run that ended with three straight 3-pointers. Flores’ first of three buckets from long range pumped the USF advantage up to 34-22 with 1:49 left in the half.
Pujol sank half of USF’s six 3-pointers in her 16-point first half, while Jespersen grabbed 10 rebounds to help the Bulls start with a 20-12 edge on the glass. Efficient USF racked up 10 assists on 13 field goals and scored 13 points off turnovers.
Missouri cut into USF’s 13-point halftime lead by outscoring the Bulls, 18-8, in the third quarter. The Tigers scored 23 points in the fourth quarter and advanced in their return trip to the NCAA tournament.
“We knew it was going to be a very good basketball game between two very good teams. I thought the first half was very, very good for us. We got out and shot a really good number. We held them to two offensive rebounds. That third quarter really hurt us. I think the biggest difference, when you look at it, were those second-chance points and the amount of offensive rebounds they got off the glass, and they converted.”
Fernandez on no-quit USF’s comeback and the final seconds of the game:
“We’re very proud of our team and how they continued to fight and claw back. Even being down five, six, and getting that stop on the side-out. Kitija hit a nice shot to tie it up, but that last possession really is what everybody remembers. We switched on everything, they shot one up and we didn’t check out on (players). I told our (team), everybody is going to remember that last possession, but there were 75 other ones where we could have done some different things. All in all, with everything this group has been through, to win 24 games and go to the NCAA tournament, this one is going to definitely hurt because we have so many of these (players) back for next year.”
20 – The number of second-chance points scored by Missouri, including 17 in the second half.
11 – Missouri grabbed 11 of its 13 total offensive rebounds in the second half.
- USF made its fifth NCAA tournament appearance in school history. This was the Bulls’ fourth NCAA tournament trip in the past five years and third in a row.
- USF was looking to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
- USF was 20-1 this season when taking a lead into the second half before Missouri’s comeback.
- Senior Ariadna Pujol posted her 17th double-digit scoring game of the season with 20 points.
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USF has notched its fifth consecutive 20-win season. The Bulls tallied its 20th win in their 24th contest of the season which tied the fastest any program has reached 20 wins. This is the eighth 20-win season in program history and head coachJose Fernandezhas been at the helm for all eight 20-win seasons. The 2014-15 team reached 20 wins in 24 games, and still currently holds the best record for most wins in a season (27).
USF has made 13 postseason tournament appearances and had five NCAA Tournament berths in Head CoachJose Fernandez’s 17 seasons. The all-time winningest coach in program history, Fernandez has guided USF to eight 20-win seasons, two WNIT final four appearances, the 2009 WNIT championship and won more than 300 games.