Shantia Grace said she really, really enjoys playing in the Sun Dome. However, the University of South Florida senior hopes Saturday's 84-78 victory against Cincinnati was her final home game.
That's because the only way USF (20-9, 7-8 Big East) plays at home again would be if the Bulls don't make the NCAA Tournament and host a WNIT game.
"I want to go the NCAA Tournament," Grace said. "Playing here again means NIT. That's not where we need to be."
Saturday's victory gave USF 20 wins under Coach Jose Fernandez for the third time in the past five seasons. By comparison, in the program's previous 32 seasons, USF had never won 20 games and had six 20-loss seasons.
"Our program is at a different stage now," Fernandez said. "We have five postseason banners up there. Now, if we're not in contention to go the NCAA Tournament, the season is a disappointment. Going to the NIT is a disappointment.
"We've gone to the NIT the last two years and two previous times, and we're sick of getting a calculator, a pin or a folder instead of a NCAA ring. The WNIT is not a bad tournament - 330 teams play Division I basketball. How many would love to play in the NIT? For them, that's a victory. For us, that's a disappointment."
Playing the final home game (hopefully) for seven seniors, the Bulls raced to a 39-14 lead. However, the Bearcats (13-15, 3-12) clawed within 76-74 with 2:48 remaining.
"We stopped playing," Fernandez said. "We got a big lead and stopped defending."
Seniors Jessica Lawson, Brittany Denson and Grace answered down the stretch, scoring the Bulls' final eight points for the victory.
Grace and Lawson each had 19 points. Senior guard Jazmine Sepulveda had 14 points and 13 assists and Denson added 14 points and seven rebounds. USF's seniors combined for 73 of USF's 84 points as the Bulls won on Senior Night for the sixth consecutive season.