COLUMBIA, S.C. – Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu scored 22 points and Elena Tsineke’s jumper with 31.2 seconds left in overtime put South Florida ahead for good in a 67-65 victory over No. 9 seed Marquette to start the women’s NCAA Tournament on Friday.
The Golden Eagles (22-11) had a final look to win, but Mackenzie Hare’s 3-pointer went inside the rim and rolled out with a second to play.
“What a way to start the NCAA Tournament,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said.
The Bulls (27-6), who didn’t lead for the game’s first 38 minutes, rallied several times including from 47-36 down in regulation to tie their mark for wins in a season.
Breaking the record this year won’t be so easy as South Florida will face the No. 1 overall seed and defending champion South Carolina, undefeated on the year at 33-0 after a 72-40 winner over No. 16 seed Norfolk State.
“We have one day to prepare for them, they have one day to prepare for us,” Fernandez said. “So we’ll see.”
The Bulls appeared to have the game won at the end of the fourth quarter, ahead 59-55 after Tsineke’s 3-pointer with 31.7 to play. But Hare’s two foul shots after a South Florida turnover tied things and forced the extra session.
The lead changed hands six times in overtime, the last on Tsineke’s basket.
“This game says we just simply don’t give up,” said Tsineke, the senior who made just one of her first nine shots before heating up.
She finished with 13 points, 11 of those coming in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Fankam Mendjiadeu finished with 16 rebounds for her 24th double-double this season and 56th of her career.
It was a disappointing finish for the Golden Eagles (22-11), who built a double-digit lead as Chloe Marotta scored a team-high 25 points. But the 6-foot-1 senior, an all-Big East first-team selection, fouled out with 2:56 to play in OT.
“It’s the hardest day of the year,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said.
South Florida entered with a mindset on a different ending than in this building a year ago when the Bulls lost the eight-nine match up to No. 8 seed Miami in the NCAA opener of last season’s Columbia pod.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles have gone to two NCAA Tournaments in coach Megan Duffy’s four seasons. They have a strong base of young players to build with going forward including Hare and freshman Emily La Chapell. “We’re in the dance and we earned every piece of it,” Duffy said.
South Florida: The Bulls won the AAC’s regular-season title and have a strong one-two combo in Fankam Mendjiadeu and Tsineke that should keep them close against anyone – maybe even the nation’s No. 1 team.
CASE OF NERVES?
Fankam Mendjiadeu acknowledged some nerves as she stood at the foul line in overtime, her team ahead by one and facing a pair of free throws. “I was scared,” she said with a laugh. Fankam Mendjiadeu made one of two, enough to keep the Bulls out front, “so it turned out OK.”