Mistakes, shooting cost USF women in home loss
TAMPA -- Down four with 12 seconds to play and St. John's shooting a second free throw, USF's women's basketball had probably already lost, but Jose Fernandez saw the sequence that followed as emblematic of the mistakes that cost his team Wednesday in the Sun Dome.
St. John's pulled its team back on defense, leaving four Bulls to watch as the Red Storm's Nadirah McKenith missed the free throw ... and got her own rebound off the miss, leading to two more free throws and the final margin in a 65-59 loss that hurts the Bulls' chances at finding their way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.
"We talked to our kids about playing every possession, not taking plays off," Fernandez said after the loss. "I thought mentally, we had a lot of mental breakdowns. It was indicative how the game ended, with four guys on the free-throw line and we didn't block out. ... Our kids fought to the end, but a couple stretches there, in games like these, a 4-0 run or 6-2 run is huge."
The Bulls (16-7, 5-5 in Big East) got a rough night from leading scorer Andrea Smith, who came in as the Big East's No. 2 scorer in conference play, but went 1-for-14 from the field, with five turnovers to offset her six points. Freshman forward Alisia Jenkins had her third straight double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to hold off the Red Storm (12-10, 6-4).
"I think all three perimeter players (Smith, with twin sister Andrell Smith and Inga Orekhova) had a rough night," Fernandez said. "I thought St. John's was very aggressive. ... We're second in the league in free-throw shooting behind Notre Dame, and we left a lot of points at the free-throw line (16-for-25)."
Down 47-38 with eight minutes left, the Bulls got back-to-back 3-pointers from Orekhova and Andrell Smith, but St. John's answered, extending its lead to 11 points after back-to-back turnovers by Andrea Smith. Again, the Bulls rallied to cut the lead to four with 1:09 left, but Akila McDonald missed a free throw, then USF missed four shots on its next possession.
USF has a comparably easy game at home Saturday against Seton Hall, but the Bulls will need multiple top-50 wins in its final five regular-season games -- at No. 10 Louisville, vs. Syracuse, at Rutgers, vs. No. 3 UConn and at Georgetown -- for a shot at the NCAA field.