Through the first three quarters of their game against Cincinnati (4-14, 3-10 AAC) on Wednesday night, the No. 12 USF women’s basketball team was ice cold offensively. However, after a strong fourth quarter and overtime, the Bulls pulled out a 69-65 win.
The ball was not falling for the Bulls (12-1, 9-0 AAC) much of the night. Heading into the fourth quarter, the team was shooting 23% from the field and 2-of-22 from three, way below their season averages.
Down three heading into the final period, the No. 12 team in the country looked like they were in deep trouble.
“We haven’t shot this poorly all year,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “We got too many good basketball players on this team for us to not make wide open shots. So, we got to move forward as a team and make sure we get our shooters good passes and get their feet set, they don’t rush and they make shots.”
Backs against the wall late in the game, the Bulls proved why they’re considered one of the best teams in the nation with their resiliency on both ends of the floor.
Struggling from beyond the arc, the Bulls turned to scoring in the paint to get their offense going. USF scored 30 points in the painted area, one of their highest marks of the season.
Getting into the lane turned out to be exactly what the Bulls shooters needed as well. Due to their insistence on driving and scoring in the post, USF was able to get to the line often in the second half and overtime. Seeing the ball go through the rim was a big confidence booster to players who were having an off night.
“My shot wasn’t falling that great in the first half,” junior guard Sydni Harvey said. “So, I was like, ‘we need to drive’ and coach emphasized that we need to get to the basket, get to the free-throw line, and once you start hitting some free throws your shot starts falling.”
The Bulls, in trademark fashion, also played a strong defensive game.
Up against the top scorer in the conference in Ilmar’l Thomas, who scored 32 points against USF in their previous matchup, the Bulls limited her to 23 points on an inefficient 8-of-17.
Thomas was held back thanks in part to great ball denial and on-ball defense by seniors Shae Leverett and Bethy Mununga, who each took turns guarding Thomas.
“She’s a really good basketball player,” Fernandez said of Thomas. “Any time she came off an on-ball screen we wanted to double her, we wanted to if she caught it on the block. She does such a great job positioning and catching the basketball and making a quick move and not allowing herself to get doubled.
“So, we had to go under size with Bethy, but one thing that Bethy did a good job [of] was taking her out, Shae’s got a little bit more size.”
Mununga and Harvey ended up leading the Bulls on a tough offensive night. Despite having a rough going from the field, Mununga still finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, her seventh double-double of the season. Harvey carried the Bulls late in the game finishing with 23 points, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Although the game was too close for comfort, the Bulls remain undefeated in conference play, and according to Fernandez, tough games like Wednesday night’s are vital if the Bulls are looking to succeed in the postseason.
“We haven’t been in a game like this since November where clock, shot clock, game management, jump ball, timeouts, execution out of timeouts, needing to get a stop, needing to get a basket,” Fernandez said. “This is a game I think that’s going to help us down the road.”
Next up for the Bulls is a game against Tulane back at the Yuengling Center.
The Bulls and the Green Wave tip off Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN+ and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.