Fighting for a long shot, post-season berth, the University of Memphis women’s basketball team battled the highly-favored South Florida Bulls deep into the fourth quarter but could not take down the second-ranked team in the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
The second-round tournament loss (63-53) on Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas leaves the Tigers (17-13, 6-9 American Athletic Conference) with a remote chance of a post-season tourney invitation.
The game was tightly contested deep into the fourth quarter.
Slotted as the seventh seed entering the AAC tournament, Memphis had defeated the 10th-seeded East Carolina University Pirates 59-48 on Monday (March 7) behind 16 points from guard Jamirah Shutes, 10 rebounds from center Tyler Frierson, and seven assists from guard Maya Stovall.
Memphis shot only 37 percent from the field against ECU, but their potent defense consistently bailed them out of trouble.
East Carolina failed to reach a 30 percent conversion rate from the field and hit just one three-pointer.
Memphis head coach Katrina Merriweather was impressed with how the team handled the Pirates’ pressing defense.
“Defensively, we knew that they were going to turn up the heat, and I wish that we handled it a little better,” Merriweather said.
“However, I am happy we were able to make a run after the first few minutes.”
After dispatching East Carolina, Memphis took on a USF team that automatically qualified for the quarterfinals due to their top-four finish in conference play.
The game started well for the Tigers as they established themselves defensively, limiting South Florida to just 33 percent shooting from the field during the first half.
Senior leader Shutes initially shouldered much of the offensive burden, scoring 12 of her 16 points in the first half. The game was tied at 27 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Memphis continued to startle USF on the defensive end of the floor. They limited the Bulls to 18 points in the quarter, with junior forward Lanetta Williams playing a key role.
The game followed a trend in earlier games, with the Tigers putting together a strong first three quarters before falling short down the stretch.
Junior sharpshooter Madison Griggs propelled the team’s offense in the second half, as she scored 10 of her 14 points.
Connecting on two key three-pointers, Griggs attempted to keep the team’s offense flowing as several of her teammates struggled throughout the third quarter.
“I think we played 30 great minutes, but things sort of got away from us in the fourth quarter,” Merriweather said. “I think they (South Florida) made some adjustments, and we weren’t able to respond.”
The last period proved to be Memphis’ weakness. They were outscored 18-8 and were limited to just two made baskets.
In addition, the Tigers’ typically formidable defense gave up key South Florida baskets down the stretch.
Merriweather was proud that her first Memphis team reached 16 or more victories for the program since the 2011 season.
“I am proud of the way that we fought, and I hope this is not the end for us,” Merriweather said, referring to the team possibly receiving a bid to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
“I can’t say more about this group and the work that they have done this season.”