Not even a career night from its star player could get USF into the win column.
Senior center Jessica Lawson battled through a knee injury suffered earlier this week to lead all scorers with a career-high 33 points, but the Scarlet Knights (13-10, 5-4) turned an 11-point, first-half deficit into a 60-52 victory at the Sun Dome on Saturday, dropping the Bulls (13-9, 4-5) into a tie for ninth place with Marquette in the Big East.
“I was hurt for most of the Villanova game (Tuesday), so I (said) … I would make it up,” said Lawson, who also added a game-high 10 rebounds. “As a senior, this is it for me, so I try to bring as much energy to each game as possible. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t come away with a win.”
USF entered won four of its previous five and looked to remain in the upper half of the Big East standings.
And the Bulls jumped out to a 14-3 lead seven minutes into the game and led 23-20 at halftime.
But Lawson had to carry the team in the second half, as she scored the team’s first 14 points, and Rutgers pulled away. She had 22 of USF’s 29 second-half points.
“We kept going to (Lawson) because she was having such a great game,” said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez. “Rutgers wasn’t double teaming her, so we used that to our advantage. But we can’t shoot so poorly from 3-point range and expect to win. You have to tip your hat to Rutgers because they made the plays when they had to.”
Lawson shot 11-of-14 from the field and 11-of-12 from the free-throw line. USF, however, went just 1-of-16 from 3-point range. The Bulls’ backcourt was stretched thin when freshman guard KaNeisha Saunders, filling in for injured Jasmine Wynne, fouled out in the second half.
“After Saunders fouled out, we weren’t left with any true point guards,” Fernandez said. “We were inbounding the ball to kids who aren’t used to handling it. But we knew Rutgers wasn’t going to feel bad for us, and they capitalized off their full-court press.”
The Scarlet Knights ended a three-game losing streak. The Bulls play three consecutive road games, beginning with Marquette on Tuesday.
“We’re still a very young team and we’re growing in spurts,” Lawson said. “We just have to stay patient and continue to improve. It’s important to leave this game behind us because we need to get ready for Marquette on Tuesday.”