With just three women's basketball games on the schedule Thursday night, BIG EAST fans were treated to an early feast as the three contests were separated by a total of five points. DePaul beat Florida 74-73 in the semifinals of the Preseason WNIT surviving a buzzer by the Gators, while Rutgers topped Princeton 54-53 getting a bucket in the closing seconds of regulation to win it. The longest game of the night saw Notre Dame lose to UCLA 86-83 in double-overtime.
It was a bang-bang finish, and DePaul head coach Doug Bruno thought his Blue Demons had lost. But Florida's last-fraction-of-a-second shot Thursday night did not beat the buzzer and it was DePaul that emerged with a dramatic 74-73 victory in the semifinals of the Preseason Women's NIT at McGrath Arena.
DePaul (3-0) advances to Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game against Purdue (3-0) at Mackey Arena.
One official made the call right away, waving off the basket after Kayla Lewis had caught the inbounds pass and appeared to score on a layup.
In the midst of Gator players celebrating, all three officials huddled and then ruled that the initial call on the court would be upheld.
With less than three-tenths of a second on the clock, the only attempt that would count is a tip-in or tap at the basket. When Florida inbounded the ball, there was one-tenth of a second left.
"I thought we got beat," Bruno said. "I couldn't see if it was a catch or a tip-in. That's a coach for you, always thinking the worst."
In Piscataway, N.J., there also were late-game heroics. With 3.3 seconds left to play in regulation and down by a point, redshirt junior guard Khadijah Rushdan hit a big shot to give Rutgers its first win of the season, 54-53 over in-state rival Princeton at the RAC.
The Scarlet Knights (1-2) improved to 15-1 all-time against the Tigers. They were led by redshirt junior guard Rushdan, who had a team-high 13 points, and classmate Chelsey Lee who chipped in 11 points and eight boards.
Over in South Bend, Skylar Diggins led Notre Dame (2-1) with 22 points and Natalie Novosel added 19 but it was not enough as the No. 12 Irish lost to No. 15 UCLA.
Notre Dame called timeout with 4.2 seconds remaining in the second overtime to set up a play. Unfortunately, UCLA stole the inbounds pass and hit two free throws from the line. The Bruins finally wrapped it up when Diggins' long attempt was off at the buzzer.
"We just couldn't get a stop. They just beat us down the floor, it was really frustrating to watch," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, also pointing to 27 turnovers and nine missed free throws as reasons for the loss. "They made big plays."
Irish guard Brittany Mallory limped off the court with an ankle injury with just under 14 minutes remaining in regulation. The senior returned to the bench about five minutes later on crutches.
"We looked really young," McGraw said "And not having Brittany in the game, we're going to look young. She's definitely the calming force on our team, and it hurt not having her there."
This was the fourth double-overtime game in Notre Dame women's basketball history and the first since Nov. 30, 1997, when the Fighting Irish defeated UCLA, 93-91 at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.