No. 19 South Florida reaches AAC title game

South Florida's Alyssa Rader, left, shoots over Central Florida's Nyala Shuler , right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
South Florida's Alyssa Rader, left, shoots over Central Florida's Nyala Shuler , right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals at Mohegan Sun Arena, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

South Florida 74, Central Florida 59

Kitija Laksa scored 20 points and Laura Ferreira added 17 to lead No. 19 South Florida to a win over rival UCF in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Monday.

Maria Jespersen chipped in with 12 for the Bulls (26-6), who advanced to the conference final for the fourth straight season. South Florida will face UConn again for the title, having lost each of the previous games.

Zakiya Saunders had 20 points to lead UCF (21-10).

South Florida, which put five players in double figures, led by three points at the half and began the second half with three 3-pointers, one from Jespersen and a pair from Laksa, to open up a 42-30 lead.

This was the first meeting of the rivals in the AAC Tournament. South Florida won both regular season meetings, beating UCF by 17 points at home in January and by nine points in overtime on Feb. 18.

The Bulls are one victory from equaling their highest win total in program history.

Quinnipiac 67, Marist 58

Jen Fay was tearing up in Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri's hotel room Monday morning.

A left leg injury the junior forward suffered in the semifinals was hampering her ability to move around and she didn't think she would be able to play in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game. It seemed like a long shot.

She spent the hours leading up to the game getting treatment on the leg and was deemed fit to give it go.

Fay scored 12 of her 23 points in the third quarter and top-seed Quinnipiac won its 22nd straight game with a victory over Marist to claim the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship at Albany.

"It was a championship game and would have taken a lot for me not to play," said Fay, who had 10 rebounds and earned MVP honors for the MAAC Tournament. "Once the adrenaline kicked in I was ready to go."

Now the Bobcats are back in the NCAA Tournament, a year after they were the surprise team advancing to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champion South Carolina. With most of the group back from that amazing run, the Bobcats hope to go one step further this time.

"Hopefully they'll be a little scared. We'll be the underdog in that situation," senior Carly Fabbri said. "Having been there and won there has been to our advantage."

Trailing 35-34 at the break, Fay got the Bobcats (27-5) going. She had the first eight points of the period to give Quinnipiac a seven-point lead — it's biggest of the game to that point.

The Red Foxes (20-13) got within 55-53 with 3:50 left in the fourth quarter, but a 3-pointer by Fabbri and four straight points by Fay after Marist made two free throws restored the seven-point lead with 2:03 left. The lead ballooned to nine — the largest lead for either team in the three series meetings this season — and Marist could only get within six the rest of the way.

Fabbri finished with 15 points and the Bobcats had only three turnovers the entire game.

Alana Gilmer scored 19 points and Rebekah Hand added 17 for the Red Foxes.

"Our kids played their hearts out, a tremendous game," Marist coach Brian Giorgis said. "Down the stretch we lost our legs. They were a little deeper than we were. They made big shots down the stretch. ... We missed some shots."

 

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