USF hosted the USF Best Western Roundball Classic on Saturday and Sunday. After a career day from Melissa Dalembert on Saturday, the Bulls suffered their second non-conference loss Sunday.
The loss – an 82-57 thumping at the hands of the Illinois State Redbirds – could hurt the Bulls more in March than it does now. Getting beat by 25 points by a mid-major looks bad when computer rankings help determine which teams will play in the NCAA Championships.
Before Sunday’s loss, USF had to play the University of New Hampshire Wildcats on Saturday in order to earn a spot in the title game. The Bulls – who committed 21 turnovers against the Wildcats – had an unlikely player step up when she was needed most.
Melissa Dalembert – sister of Samuel Dalembert of the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers – came off the bench to play her best game as a Bull.
Dalembert scored a total of 18 points last season. On Saturday, she was 8-13 from the field, scored a career-high 19 points, and matched a personal best with 12 rebounds to help lead USF past UNH 72-56.
On Sunday USF fell behind early in the game and could not fight hard enough to get back into the contest.
The match was primarily one of scoring runs. The only problem for the Bulls was that USF was on the wrong end of them.
The Bulls trailed 14-5 early, but managed to pull within two points at 14-16 with 9:50
seconds remaining in the first half. However, the Redbirds outscored USF 28-8 over that 9:50 span to take a 42-22 lead into halftime.
“They came out with more energy than us. They came out with more intensity than us,” junior center Jessica Lawson said. “It just looked like they wanted it more.”
To start the second half, Lawson looked as if she were going to carry the team by herself. She scored eight of her career-high 23 points unanswered to begin the second half. With the Bulls facing a 44-28 deficit, junior guard Shantia Grace knocked down a three-pointer that would have cut ISU’s lead to 13 points with 18:12 minutes left to play.
However, Lawson was called for an illegal screen. The call did not sit well with many who saw it.
“(The call) was very frustrating because it could have changed the game,” Grace said. “Those are the kind of things that we can’t control and have to bounce back from. It’s our job to get back and play hard defense and get another chance on offense.”
For the Bulls, there are several problems that need to be addressed quickly. The Bulls have been outscored by an average of 31 points in their two losses, and USF is averaging more than 20 turnovers per game.
“We’re just not a very good team right now,” Fernandez said. “We’re just not playing well. We’re not doing the little things. We’ve played four games and have 80-plus turnovers. It’s totally inexcusable.”
Fernandez feels that his team needs to right the ship quickly.
“We’re not playing with the sense of urgency that we need to be playing with,” he said. “Illinois State is a good team, and they came in here playing a Big East team and beat us soundly.”
The Bulls, who are nearing the end of a span in which they play five games in seven days to begin the season, do not believe that fatigue has played a part in their two early losses.
“A great quote says ‘If you let your brain tell you you’re tired, your legs won’t run,'” Lawson said. “Right now we need to show our mental toughness.”
If the Bulls weren’t showing urgency before Sunday’s loss, the players can feel it now.
“We have to play every game from here on out like it’s our last game of the season,” Grace said. “We didn’t play hard, and we didn’t play together. Now, we have to dig deep, forget about these two losses, and come back strong.”
Fernandez is confident that his team will turn the season around after suffering the two early losses.
“We’re going to see what kind of toughness this team has,” Fernandez said. “We need to do less talking and more
playing. I do think that we’ll get this fixed.”