After a 69-59 victory Friday at the Sun Dome against Charlotte, the best team in Conference USA, the USF women’s basketball team seemingly had jumped back into contention for a spot in the conference tournament in Memphis. But the momentum gained from knocking off the 49ers was lost Sunday, as the Bulls (7-18, 2-10) fell 71-60 to East Carolina on Senior Day.
The loss leaves USF with little hope of extending its season beyond next weekend’s final two regular-season games.
“I’m definitely disappointed at our last home game the way we came out of the gate,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “I think it was an indication that, mentally and physically, we just didn’t come out with the same energy and intensity level that we did the other day.
“I don’t know if we were worn down by Friday, but that’s no excuse.”
USF was in trouble early against ECU, spotting the Pirates 14 points to open the game. However, the Bulls went on a 15-6 run during the final 5:33, trimming the lead to six points before halftime.
USF started the second half with some hot shooting and took its first lead of the game, 43-41, after Alana Tanksley’s fourth second-half three-pointer with 13:58 remaining.
“We just came out (in the second half) with the same confidence we had against Charlotte,” Tanksley said. “When you come out with confidence, you’re going to knock shots down.”
But the hot shooting disappeared down the stretch, as USF went on a six-minute scoring drought with 7:34 left in the game, allowing East Carolina (12-13, 4-8) to build a nine-point lead during that time to secure the victory.
“(East Carolina) is nowhere near our caliber,” Tanksley said. “We should have beaten them with no problem.
“Our problem is confidence. When we’re making shots, we’re confident, but when we’re down we stay down, and we have to learn how to pick ourselves up.”
One Bull struggling with her shot this season is sophomore Jen Kline. Kline, who has battled a leg injury throughout the year, went 3-of-15 from the field, including 1-of-10 from 3-point range, in Sunday’s loss. She didn’t fare much better in Friday’s win, as she managed to shoot only 4-of-12 from the field and 1-of-8 from three-point range.
“(Kline’s) a good shooter, but I think she’s fighting her own demons right now,” Fernandez said. “When you go 1-of-10 (from 3-point range), I mean you can punt it up there and hit more than one.
“I mean, she’s wide open. There’s no excuse for that, none. I think it’s more of a mental thing with her than anything.”
Sarah Lochmann led the Bulls against East Carolina with 18 points, while Tanksley chipped in 14.
“Alana and Sarah had great games, but you need to have other people step up,” Fernandez said.
The Bulls had no problem with people stepping up Friday against Charlotte, as four players reached double figures and two more had nine points. USF grabbed an early lead and was never threatened by the 49ers.
Junior Melissa Tape led the Bulls against Charlotte, dumping in a career-high 14 points and adding six assists on her 22nd birthday. Senior Aiya Shepard also had a good game with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
The Bulls have two more regular-season games, both on the road, with an opportunity to end the regular season on a positive note.
“Aiya Shepard, Ashley Teets (and Sonia Cotton) don’t return (next year), and the young kids really have no choice but to finish out the year playing as hard as they possibly can,” Fernandez said.
“Right now, we’re just playing for pride,” Tanksley said.
Adam Adkins covers USF women’s basketball and can be reached at email@example.com