by Nick Toland
The women’s basketball team improved its winning streak to six games when it defeated the South Florida Bulls last Saturday in a game that was decided within the final second of play.
The 52-49 win was the Wildcats’ first-ever victory against South Florida and the team was able to remain undefeated in Big East conference play.
With the score deadlocked at 49-49 in the final moments of the contest, Villanova junior guard Devon Kane was fouled on a desperation 3-pointer with three tenths of a second still left on the clock.
With the game in Kane’s hands, she knocked down all three free throw attempts to put the Wildcats up three points and the game out of South Florida’s reach. Kane’s heroics gave the team its fourth Big East victory, improving the team’s overall record to 15-2.
The Wildcats jumped out to an early lead after USF missed its first six shots of the game.Villanova senior forward Laura Sweeney converted a layup 3:16 into the first half to give her team a 7-0 advantage.
Freshman guard Caroline Coyer increased Villanova’s lead to 17-7 by sinking a jumper with 11:27 left in the first half, but this would be the only field goal the Wildcats would convert for the next 10 minutes.
The team’s cold shooting allowed USF to climb back into the game as Andrell Smith’s 16 first-half points ignited the Bulls to tie the game at 17-17 before Smith knocked down a jumper with 1:37 left in the half to give USF a two-point lead.
After Villanova’s sophomore center Emily Leer grabbed an offensive rebound on the ensuing possession, Kane dished the ball to senior guard Rachel Roberts who hit a 3-pointer with just over one minute remaining to end the Bulls’ 12-0 scoring run.
Thirty seconds later, Leer made two free throws to put the Wildcats up 22-21, but the lead was short-lived as South Florida’s Smith drilled a jumper with seven seconds left to give the Bulls a one-point lead at the half.
Andrell Smith’s twin sister, Andrea Smith, gave the Bulls their largest lead of the game 3:36 into the second half when her pull-up jumper gave USF a five point lead and the early second half momentum.
Sweeney then scored five of her team-high 16 points in the next five minutes to rally the Wildcats and even the score, 31-31 with 13:23 remaining in the game.
Two minutes later Kane gave the Wildcats their first lead of the second half after an Andrell Smith foul sent her to the free-throw line. She made one of her two foul shots to make the score 34-33 in favor of Villanova.
Villanova would continue to dictate the pace of the game and would not relinquish the lead for the following eight minutes, but USF stayed close and remained in striking distance of the Wildcats.
Then, South Florida’s Inga Orekhova drilled a 3-pointer with 3:43 remaining to notch the score at 47-47. Both teams would fail to convert on offense over the next two minutes.
Once again Sweeney delivered when her team needed it, sinking two free throws with just over a minute left. Andrea Smith knocked down a jumper 19 seconds later to tie the game at 49-49, where the score would remain until the final shot.
Sophomore forward Taylor Holeman grabbed a defensive rebound and delivered an outlet pass to Roberts, who then sent a quick pass to Kane for the final shot of the game. USF’s Sasha Bernard picked up her only personal foul of the game trying to contest Kane’s shot, but it turned out to be the most costly call of the game for the Bulls.
Kane’s three free throws in the final second accounted for half of her points, as she finished with six points, three rebounds and three assists.
Sweeney was the major catalyst for the Wildcats per usual. Her 13th career double-double and fourth of the season propelled the team and sparked the impressive performances of Roberts and Holeman, who tallied 13 points and nine rebounds respectively.
The Wildcats shot very poorly from the field, only making 21.7 percent of their 3-point attempts and 32.7 percent of their overall field goal attempts.
The Wildcats also committed 16 turnovers, seven more than the Bulls who became 1-3 in conference play and 12-5 overall on the season after the defeat.
Andrell Smith was contained in the second half but led the Bulls with 20 points and nine rebounds and shot 50 percent from the floor.
The victory was a huge one for the ’Cats, who have only lost once at home this season as they continue to plow through the easier part of their schedule.
On Tuesday, the USA Today Coaches’ Poll voted the Wildcats No. 25 in the nation. This is the first time they have been ranked since 2004.
’Nova has not lost a game since Dec. 29 against Delaware, and has won 15 of their last 17 games.
They’ll look to continue their hot streak against No. 22 Syracuse this Saturday in the Pavilion at 6 p.m. before heading to Connecticut to face the No. 2 Huskies on Jan. 29.