With 7:07 left in the game against No. 5 Louisville, USF sophomore forward Alisia Jenkins had her hands on her knees as she gathered her breath at the free-throw line she had been sent to after being fouled.
But the stare in her eyes looking toward the basket was steady.
“We could beat this team,” Jenkins said. “I had all the confidence in the world.”
Though her two free throws got the Bulls (8-8, 2-2) within two points against one of the top teams in the nation, the Bulls ultimately ended the game in a 62-54 loss Sunday.
USF head coach Jose Fernandez said he saw the team had begun to take steps back early on — before the second half had started.
“The first half, you go into the locker room and you feel pretty good,” Fernandez said. “It’s only a six-point ball game. We just hurt ourselves with 13 turnovers that first half and 13 offensive rebounds.”
Of the Bulls’ 13 turnovers, 10 of them were committed within the first 10 minutes. This allowed for the Cardinals to open up the score margin to eight.
The Cardinals (16-1, 4-0) were also able to create extra opportunities to score offensively by controlling the glass.
Even with players such as Jenkins, who recorded three blocks, and senior center Akila McDonald, who recorded four, the 11 extra offensive rebounds Louisville had over the Bulls helped them score 20 second-chance points.
“I thought Louisville just really hammered the glass,” Fernandez said.
After the Cardinals
struggled to find 3-pointers and shots from team leading scorer Shoni Schimmel, the Bulls utilized a transition offense to break the trap and press defenses to go on a 8-0 run led by a shot from sophomore guard Courtney Williams and capped by freshman guard Ariadna Pujol.
“I just wanted to win, just keep my team in it,” Williams said. “That’s the only thing I was thinking, we just have to make it to the half.”
Williams would end the night with 19 points and eight rebounds.
While the Bulls got to the half as Jenkins wanted, Schimmel and the Cardinals opened the second half with four 3-pointers in the first five minutes setting up an 11-0 run creating a 17-point lead.
“(Schimmel’s) good. She’s a pro,” Fernandez said. “I think this year with her team being 16-1 she’s one of the top 10 or 12 players in the country without a doubt.”
USF fought once more, cutting the lead down to the two-point deficit with a lineup that included three sophomores and two freshmen.
Those underclassmen accounted for several blocks and created free throw opportunities, but the Cardinals applied pressure defense on the guards, restraining the Bulls to a 26 percent field goal shooting percentage while cutting off the passing lanes.
With the Bulls not scoring, Louisville’s Sara Hammond and Schimmel continued to find the basket. Their 14 and 25 points respectively accounted for 62 percent of Louisville’s points.
Even with the loss, Jenkins still thinks the Bulls have a chance at earning a victory against Louisville.
“I still have all the confidence that we are capable of beating Louisville,” Jenkins said.
USF takes on rival UCF on Saturday in Orlando.