It was billed as a matchup between the best player in the Big East and the nation’s leading scorer and it didn’t disappoint.
Junior Jessica Dickson and Rutgers guard Cappie Pondexter went head-to-head, but it was Pondexter who got the edge in the Scarlet Knights’ 66-65 win. Both players set new marks for career-high in points – Pondexter with 40 and Dickson with 37 – but it was Pondexter who hit the game-winning shot with 18 seconds left to put Rutgers on top in the end.
“I just came into this game knowing that I was going against Cappie. I knew it was going to be a game where her and I would go back and forth,” Dickson said. “She just made big shots in the end; she’s a great player.”
Pondexter, who came into the game averaging 21.1 points, passed her previous mark of 35, set on Feb. 8, 2004, against Boston College. For Dickson, her 37 points was the fifth time she broke the 30-point mark this season, and it improved her nation’s best scoring average to 27.4 points a game.
At one point in the first half, the Bulls led 26-10, with 16 of those points belonging to Dickson. But what would be a trend in the game, Pondexter answered Dickson with 16 points of her own to help the Scarlet Knights overcome eight turnovers and cut the Bulls’ lead to eight before halftime.
Dickson and Pondexter would trade buckets in the second half, each threatening to have the game high, which Dickson admitted she fed off of it.
“She would come down and score and I would come down and score, and it was like back and forth, hyping everybody up,” Dickson said. “In a sense it was like, ‘Me and you, let’s go and grit it out.'”
In the second half, Pondexter overtook Dickson by scoring 11 points on a 20-11 run that saw Rutgers take the lead for the first time since it was 2-0 in the opening four seconds.
The score was tied when Pondexter dribbled down the court and hit a jumper from the free throw line to give the Scarlet Knights a 66-64 lead with 18 seconds left.
Shantia Grace had a chance to tie the game at the free throw line, but she converted on only one of two. USF struggled from the foul line, hitting only nine of 17 in the second half including two of six in the final five minutes of the game, which cost the Bulls a chance at an upset.
“(Dickson) and Cappie, you knew both of them would have big games,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “We just need other people on our team to make plays and make shots.”
Of the three Big East games USF have played so far this season, all have been decided by two points or less. The Bulls’ two conference losses have been by a combined three points, a stat that is starting to wear on Fernandez.
“I thought our kids really came out with a lot of effort and energy,” Fernandez said. “It’s a tough way to lose, but I told our players we can’t hang our heads down. We’ve got to continue to fight and continue to work.”