Bulls overmatched, routed by No. 1 Connecticut

By Josh Fiallo, Sports Editor
On January 7, 2018

Maria Jespersen and Kitija Laksa (above) entered Saturday’s tilt against UConn averaging the most points per game on the team. Against UConn, however, the two combined for a total of 9 points between them. THE ORACLE/MIKI SHINE

Perfection.

If USF (12-4) wanted any chance to take down perennial women’s basketball giant No. 1 UConn (13-0) on Saturday night at the Sun Dome, it would have needed to be perfect, or at the least produce its best performance of the season.

The Bulls leading scorers — winger Laura Ferreira, forward Maria Jespersen and guard Kitija Laksa — would have needed to have career games. Point guard Laia Flores, who is the AAC leader in assists by more than 30, would have needed to be clinical in getting the ball into the hands of those scorers. Lastly, the Bulls would have needed to stop the Huskies’ high-powered offense that averages a nation-best 91.3 points per game.

Instead of perfection for USF, however, UConn handled the Bulls with ease, just as they’ve have nearly every opponent in their 165-2 run that dates back to the beginning of the 2013-14 season.

Laksa, Ferreira and Jespersen shot a combined 4-40 from the field, while Flores recorded just two assists. After trailing from wire-to-wire, USF fell to the Huskies 100-49 in front of a record home crowd of 6,659 — split between Huskies and Bulls fans.

“Bottom line, we got our a** kicked today,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said post-game.

The domination started early for UConn, with the Huskies shooting 5-6 from the field to take an 11-2 lead less than three minutes into the game.

The Huskies then continued their high level of scoring and effort throughout the game, scoring in triple digits for the first time ever at the Sun Dome after UConn knocked down a three-pointer with eight seconds to play in the game.

“You even saw Kia (Nurse) diving on a loose ball, I think we were up thirty at the time,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of his team’s effort. “It’s kind of what we do. We don’t really play to the scoreboard.”

While the Huskies maintained their intensity despite the lopsided score, the Bulls did not, according to Fernandez.

“Multiple efforts, charges, loose balls,” Fernandez said. “It’s a 35-40-point game and they came up with all of the extra effort plays. It didn’t matter what the scoreboard was for them.”

Fernandez recalled effort being an issue toward the end of a loss to Oklahoma on Dec. 9, 2017 after Saturday’s loss as well.

“Oklahoma played a lot harder than we did,” he said. “They (Oklahoma) took four-five charges and they competed.”

USF post-player Alyssa Rader, who came off the bench to score a team-high 11 points against UConn, echoed her coach’s observation.

“No matter who you’re playing, whether it be No. 1 or 300-something, I think you need to go out and play with as much effort as possible,” Rader said. “I think our team could’ve done a little better on the effort end (tonight). Every 50-50 ball, you have to get up the courage to go after the ball, dive for it, take a charge, stuff like that.”

The loss was the Bulls’ worst since they fell to UConn 100-44 in the AAC title game last season and brought their all-time record against the Huskies to 0-24.

Playing a big part in their latest defeat was Nurse’s ability to hold Laksa, who entered the game averaging 21.5 points a game, to zero points on 11 shots, while guarding her in man-to-man coverage.

“That’s kind of a battle those two (Nurse and Laksa) have every time we play them,” Auriemma said. “It’s been like that now for three years and Kia is relentless when it comes to the defensive pressure she puts on people. I think Kit got a little bit frustrated, a little bit hurried, the shots weren’t the way she normally gets them.”

Laksa and the Bulls will likely face the UConn two more times this season, once in the regular season finale on Feb. 26 and again in the conference championship game, if both teams reach the game as they have for the last three seasons.

“They are the No. 1 team in the country, but actually it’s good for us to have them in our conference, so we have the opportunity to play them two, or hopefully three times,” Flores said. “That way we can learn from the best.”

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