TAMPA — The one way the University of South Florida women's basketball team felt it could show the selection committee that it belonged in the NCAA tournament was by winning the WNIT tourney.
After winning games against North Carolina A&T, Stetson, George Washington and Mississippi State, the Bulls' run ended against Rutgers, a familiar opponent that also felt snubbed from the big dance.
The Scarlet Knights rode the hot hand of shooting guard Tyler Scaife, who scored a game-high 22 points, and defeated the Bulls 62-52 in a WNIT semifinal at the Sun Dome on Wednesday night.
“Both of these teams deserved to be in the NCAAs, so I'm not buying anything that anybody has to say,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.
The American Athletic Conference foes, which split the regular-season series, were meeting for the third time and proved to be evenly matched. The anticipated inside matchup between USF's Akila McDonald (10 points, three rebounds) and Rutgers' Rachel Hollivay (12 points, eight blocks, six rebounds) materialized, with both 6-foot-4 post players ending the night scoring in double digits.
USF's Inga Orekhova (10 points, three assists) had a rough night shooting from beyond the arc, as the senior went 2-of-11 on 3-point attempts and 3-for-18 overall. The Bulls (23-13) couldn't get anything to fall and shot 20-for-64 (31.3 percent) while getting to the free throw line only nine times.
After the game, USF coach Jose Fernandez thanked all the fans and supporters and vowed that his team would be back in the NCAA tournament next season. The Bulls graduate two seniors and return Courtney Williams, the team's leading scorer.
“Only two teams end the season with a win, and that's the NCAA champion and the NIT champion,” Fernandez said. “Tonight just wasn't our night.”