In the literary and cinema classic “The Wizard of Oz”, the fictional Dorothy Gale learned that there truly is no place like home. For the University of Tulsa women’s basketball team, that lesson came to life as the Golden Hurricane capped a magical four-game run through the 2013 Conference USA Championship with a 75-66 title-game win over UCF Saturday evening in the BOK Center.
Tulsa led by as many as 15 at 58-43 with 12:31 left to play and again at 60-45 at the 11:06 mark, but UCF refused to go away quietly as the Knights whittled the deficit down to four at 70-66 with just over two minutes to go. The Knights, however, would not score again and Tulsa hit 5-of-7 free throws in the final 23 seconds to account for the final score.In victory, Tulsa extended its winning streak to a season-best five to improve to 17-16 on the year and claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Hurricane will learn their postseason destination Monday, March 18, when the selection committee announces the 64-team field at 6 p.m. (CDT) on ESPN. UCF, meanwhile, concludes the 2012-13 season with a record of 16-18.The C-USA Championship is the second in Tulsa history as the Golden Hurricane won the title in 2006. Tulsa becomes just the second host team to win the conference title, joining the Tulane Green Wave which defeated Cincinnati, 58-44, on March 1, 1999, in New Orleans.
Senior guard Taleya Mayberry was named C-USA Championship Most Valuable Player after scoring 25 points, pulling down eight rebounds, posting four steals and handing out a pair of assists in the win over the Knights. For the week, she averaged 25.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 steals per contest. She was joined on the C-USA Championship All-Tournament Team by fellow Golden Hurricane Tiffani Couisnard and Kelsee Grovey along with UCF’s Briahanna Jackson and Erika Jones.
For the game, Tulsa posted a 48.3 field goal percentage after connecting on 29-of-60 shots while holding UCF to a .385 clip (25-of-65), including a 11-of-34 performance in the second half (.324). The Golden Hurricane outscored the Knights in the paint, 40-26, added 19 points off 16 UCF turnovers and used nine steals to score 11 fast-break points.Mayberry was one of four Tulsa players to post double-digit scoring totals as guard Ashley Clark and forward Loren McDaniel each scored 14 while Grovey added 12. Clark paced the Golden Hurricane with three assists and shared team-high block honors with McDaniel at a trio apiece.
The first half was a back-and-forth struggle as the two teams traded the first 44 points and neither squad led by more than three points during the game’s first 13-plus minutes. Jackson broke the 22-all tie with a free throw with 6:45 to play before halftime, but that would be the Knights’ final lead of the day as Tulsa guard Ashley Clark sparked a 13-4 run over the next 3:59 to give the Golden Hurricane a 35-27 lead they would not relinquish. UCF scored seven of the game’s next nine points to make it a three-point affair, only to see Tulsa score the final four points of the half and the first four of the second stanza to make it 43-34 with 18:21 left to play.
The Golden Hurricane continued to extend its lead over the 7:21 to hold a 15-point lead, but UCF got the deficit down to single digits at 61-53 on a 3-pointer by Andrea Hines. Tulsa responded with a 7-2 run to make it a 13-point affair before UCF went on an 11-2 to set up Tulsa’s game-clinching free throws.Carter led the Knights with 22 points while Jackson and center Erika Jones finished with 16 and 14, respectively. Jones completed the game’s lone double-double with 10 rebounds and shared team-high block honors with Sara Djassi at two each. Djassi led all players with five assists.
Tulsa will find out its NCAA destination on Monday, March 16th at 6 pm (CT) on ESPN’s Selection Show.