Bulls hang tough, fall to No. 8 Mountaineers

There’s not too much depth on the USF women’s basketball team – and it’s starting to show.

The shorthanded Bulls (14-12, 5-8) were no match for No. 8 West Virginia on Saturday, falling 54-45 at the Sun Dome for their fourth loss in the last five games.

“Our kids battled and competed (on Saturday),” said USF coach Jose Fernandez. “West Virginia is in the top 10 for a reason. They’re a darn good team.”

USF is still with only eight players after guards Janae Stokes, Sequoyah Griffin and Dominique English were suspended indefinitely Feb. 13 for violating team rules. The Bulls are also without starting point guard Jasmine Wynne, who tore her ACL on Jan. 20.

The Mountaineers (24-3, 11-2), whose only three losses have come to teams ranked in the top five, have won four straight games since losing to No. 1 Connecticut on Feb. 2.

USF stayed close for most of the contest despite having their leading scorer in foul trouble for most of the evening.

Center Jessica Lawson, who had eight double-doubles in her last nine games leading up to Saturday, picked up her third foul with nine minutes remaining in the first half and was forced to sit until halftime. She ended up fouling out, going scoreless with six rebounds.

Lawson had been averaging 15.2 points and a Big East leading 10.8 rebounds per game.

“Our main focus was to shut down Lawson,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. “I thought our center Asya Bussie did a great job staying in front of her, which frustrated Lawson.”

The Mountaineers were led by forward Korinne Campbell’s 14 points and 14 rebounds and Big East assist leader Sarah Miles’s nine points and 10 assists.

Fernandez said the Bulls played great defense against a team that averages 61 points per game.

“We held the No. 8 team to 36 percent shooting and 54 points,” he said. “That is really impressive considering how good they are. We just had a really difficult time scoring against their man-to-man defense.”

USF shot 27 percent, including just 2-for-13 from 3-point range.

Of the eight players available, four are freshmen. Fernandez said he’s pleased with the experience they are receiving despite the team missing key players on the perimeter.

“We are playing four freshmen who have never been a part of these battles and are playing against kids who have,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the way those kids have competed. They have done everything we have asked and are playing their hearts out.”

The Bulls, who close the season with home games against Providence and DePaul and a road game against Louisville, are 1-2 since their second (Stokes) and third (Griffin) leading scorers were suspended.

“We have to stay together,” said freshman guard KaNeisha Saunders, who entered the game in a 6-of-32 shooting slump but scored a game-high 18 points in the loss. “We have been playing really well lately even though we haven’t gotten the victories. We are going to go eight strong to finish off the season.”

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