Sonia Cotton’s free throw with 58 seconds remaining Thursday gave the Bulls 56 points.
That was the only point USF scored in the final seven minutes and four seconds, as Southern Miss reeled off a 23-1 run to close out its 78-56 Conference USA victory vs. the Bulls.
“We cannot have just two kids show up,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “We need everybody to come and play, and down the stretch …”
With seven minutes, four seconds left in the second half, Allison AuBuchon converted off a pass from Aiya Shepard to give USF (11-6, 1-3 in C-USA) a 55-55 tie with the Golden Eagles (8-9, 1-3). From there, the Eagles seemed to score at will as they completely left the Bulls in the dust.
“Of our 22 turnovers, six were in that stretch,” Fernandez said. “We shot 50 percent from the free-throw line and missed eight in the last (9:38).”
The game’s momentum repeatedly swung in both directions with each team able to counter the other’s runs. The Bulls and Eagles tied the score 11 times in the first half, including a 32-32 score at the break. USF gained a three-point advantage at 45-42 with 12 minutes, 52 seconds left after a fast-break bucket by Tristen Webb. Southern Miss answered with an 11-2 run during the next three and a half minutes to lead 53-47, its biggest lead of the game at that point.
The Bulls didn’t relent, and their 8-2 spurt, keyed by baskets from Webb, Dione Smith, Aiya Shepard and Allison AuBuchon, evened the score at 55.
That’s when the Golden Eagles erupted with 21 straight points.
Large runs by the opposition have killed the Bulls during their recent three-game slide. Jan. 11 against Marquette, the Golden Eagles closed the first half with an 11-0 run to move from up three with just under four minutes remaining to out in front by 14 at the half. USF would get no closer than 11 the rest of the way. Sunday against DePaul was more of the same, as the Blue Demons watched the Bulls score the first basket of the game, then promptly replied with 11 straight points. To open the second half, DePaul scored eight unanswered points and held on to win 74-69.
“It’s two or three-minute stretches that kill us,” Fernandez said. “Night in and night out, but it’s going to happen with such a young team.”
USF got limited production from top scorers Cotton and Shepard, but the team received an unexpected boost from post players Sarah Lochmann and AuBuchon. The two combined were averaging less than 13 points, but AuBuchon had a career-high 18 points and Lochmann was not far behind with 14, also a career best. Unfortunately for USF, Cotton was 2-of-12 shooting, and Shepard had only two points.
“Every time we fix something, we make a weakness a strength,” Fernandez said. “But, then one strength becomes a weakness. We just need to put it all together. Shooting 30 (percent from the field), 20 (percent from three-point range) and 50 (percent from the free-throw line), we’re not going to beat anybody with those numbers.”
- Anthony Gagliano covers women’s basketball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org