South Florida women win first title of any kind for school

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- With a chance to win their school's first postseason championship of any kind, the South Florida Bulls weren't going to let 16,000 hostile Kansas fans stand in the way.

Jazmine Sepulveda scored 18 points and Shantia Grace had 16 and the Bulls held off a late rally to beat the Jayhawks 75-71 on Saturday in the WNIT finals in front of a crowd of 16,113.

It was more than merely a Kansas women's record. It was the largest home crowd for a women's game in Big 12 history.

"It was so loud that my ears were ringing and I couldn't hear myself breathe," Grace said. "It was loud. But after you play for a couple of minutes, you just tune the crowd out and play the game. We knew the crowd wouldn't be a factor if we just stayed together and played hard."

Jessica Lawson added 13 points for South Florida, including a key free throw in the final minute as the Bulls (27-10) won their third road game in three different states in six days.

South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said it was easily the biggest crowd his team had seen all year, even in the tough Big East Conference.

"I told our kids to just embrace the atmosphere," he said. "I told our guys, 'Everything is handled between 94 feet. The crowd can't score. The crowd's not going to defend you.'

"I think our kids just stayed composed and played basketball. And they executed."

Danielle McCray had 24 points for Kansas (22-14) and pushed her tournament total to 147, a WNIT record.

Allen Fieldhouse is used to big crowds. The men's team plays before sellouts almost every game. But the women's team, which won nine of 11 to reach the WNIT finals, averaged only 2,555 during the regular season.

"It was amazing," McCray said. "Just walking up to the gym and seeing people clapping for you. I don't think I've ever seen people wait in line to get into the game, except for boys games. I wish we were able to pull out the win to show our appreciation."

Sade Morris had 19 points for Kansas. Aishah Sutherland had 12 and Kyrsten Boogaard 10.

"The fans were camping out when we got here," Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "They were screaming every time one of our players walked in from the parking lot and the players were a little shocked by that. This is the most basketball-crazy place in the world."

The record crowd got a quick-paced, entertaining game of alternating scoring streaks.

Janae Stokes, as the shot 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 the Jayhawks unfurled a 13-2 run and chopped 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 turned it over 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.

"I had a couple of bad shots at the beginning of the game, so I just had to settle down," Grace said. "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."

The Bulls held Kansas to 38 percent shooting.

"We never felt like we were out of it, even down 10 to 12 points," Morris said. "We were not giving up and we never quit. From down 12 to down one, we were thinking we're in the game."