TAMPA — Sixteen games into this snake-bitten season, USF's women keep catching lousy breaks.
Their reasonable NCAA Tournament chances may be fracturing as a result.
Down to nine healthy scholarship players and hampered by foul trouble, the Bulls (10-6, 1-1) remained within striking distance of UCF for 36 minutes before the Knights pulled away for a 62-49 triumph.
The Bulls, who already have lost three significant players to season-ending injuries, played Tuesday without top scorer Laura Ferreira, absent with an unspecified illness. Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said he doesn't anticipate Ferreira, also the team's top defensive stopper, returning any time soon.
"Right now we're playing without our three best players," Fernandez said. "That's 45-50 points out the lineup. That's a lot."
Unable to find an offensive rhythm against UCF's 3-2 zone, the Bulls committed 22 turnovers — including eight in the first quarter — and shot a season-low 28.1 percent (16-for-57) from the floor.
Yet consecutive 3-pointers from sophomore guard Enna Pehadzic (16 points, 10 rebounds) cut their deficit to two points midway through the fourth.
"It's a two-point game with five minutes to go, so we're doing something right on the defensive end," said Fernandez, whose club finished with a 42-36 rebounding advantage. "They're getting one shot and out."
The Bulls still trailed by only two, 50-48, on Pehadzic's two free throws with 4:38 to play, but missed their last five field goals as UCF closed out things with a 12-1 run.
"You shoot 28 percent from the floor, you're not gonna beat many people," Fernandez said.
"I thought we got the ball in the right places, we missed a lot of shots at the elbows and on some ball reversals against that 3-2. We got the ball where we wanted to get it to, we had a hard time converting."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.