USF women's rally falls short in costly defeat
With 20 victories and a top-50 RPI, the USF women's tournament resume still looks pretty solid these days.
Their seeding is another story.
A furious second-half rally by the No. 22 Bulls (20-6, 9-4 American) ended with futility down the stretch in a 77-71 loss Sunday to Temple before a Sun Dome crowd of 2,281. USF has lost two in a row for the first time this season and almost certainly will fall out of the top 25.
Suddenly, it appears in danger of losing three of its last five entering the American Athletic Conference tournament. The Bulls play at Houston (10-16, 3-10) on Tuesday and at Tulsa (8-18, 4-9) on Saturday before hosting top-ranked Connecticut on Feb. 27.
"We've got to go on the road and win those two games," Coach Jose Fernandez said. "And if we don't, we don't deserve to go to the NCAA Tournament."
Hampered by one of its most dreadful shooting halves of the season, USF trailed 39-26 at halftime Sunday, missing all 10 of its 3-point attempts. At that point, USF had more turnovers (nine) than field goals (eight).
And Temple had done far more hand-checking than Fernandez could bear, prompting his technical with 2:53 to play in the first half.
"I wasn't gonna sit here for the next 22, 23 minutes watching that game unfold the way it did," Fernandez said.
The Bulls scored the first six points of the second half -- all by sophomore Kitija Laksa -- and trimmed their deficit to seven, 56-49, by the end of the third. When junior Maria Jespersen (26 points, 11 rebounds) converted a traditional three-point play with 2:46 to go, USF went ahead 67-64, its first lead since the first period.
"I think the first and second halves definitely were officiated differently," Fernandez said.
From there, USF went on a 2:17 scoring drought lowlighted by two turnovers and a critical defensive lapse.
The Bulls failed to box out after a missed 3-pointer by Temple's Alliya Butts on the left wing, enabling Feyonda Fitzgerald (23 points) to hit a second-chance 3-pointer to tie the score at 67-all.
A Donnaizha Fountain trey from the right baseline made it 72-67 with 56 seconds remaining. Temple (21-5, 11-2) went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line in the last 1:33.
"Up three and we don't get a defensive stop when we needed to," Fernandez said. "It was a long three (by Butts) from the left wing and we didn't block out. And that's what it comes down to."