Hustle points not enough to lift Bulls past Gators

University of Florida coach Carolyn Peck made a unique statement following the Gators on Tuesday night matchup against the USF women’s basketball team in the Sun Dome.

Peck said if one counted up the “hustle points,” like fighting for every loose ball, going after every rebound and just playing hard every play, in the game, that the Bulls would have won.

Unfortunately for USF, the Gators produced more points where it counted — on the scoreboard — in handing the Bulls a 70-55 loss at home, the 13th consecutive USF loss to its intrastate rivals from Gainesville.

“It hurts,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “Every time you lose it hurts.

“(But) if you would have told me we were going to outshoot Florida, get 17 more cracks at the basket than they were going to get, and get 24 offensive rebounds, (I would have told you) we’re going to beat these guys.”

Though the Bulls (3-3) did get those numbers, what hurt was that USF only managed to shoot 24 percent from the field, including just 19 percent in the second half. Meanwhile, Florida shot 57 percent for the game and 68 percent in the second half, which helped the Gators pull away from a game tied at 27 at halftime.

Though the Bulls suffered from poor shooting in the end, they hung close and actually trailed by only three points with 7:19 left in the game, thanks in part to the play of sophomore center Sharon Cambridge and junior point guard Anedra Gilmore.

Cambridge scored a career-high 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Gilmore came very close to notching a triple double before fouling out of the game.

However, the Gators closed the game on a 19-7 run, getting eight points from All-American candidate Vanessa Hayden, who scored a game-high 25 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and added five blocks.

“They just made big plays, big plays down the stretch,” Fernandez said. “Their offensive rebounds at certain times really hurt us. Every time we went on a run and cut it to five, cut it to four, cut it to three, we’d give up a second shot and a third shot.

“(Also) two big no block-outs on a free throw situation. And that just can’t happen.”

One of those block-out situations came with less than a minute remaining in the game when Hayden grabbed an offensive board off a missed free throw and scored, giving Florida a 67-55 lead and ultimately sealing the Bulls’ fate.

But there were some bright spots for the new-look Bulls, most notably the intensity the players showed on the court, which seemed non-existent most of last season.

At one time, junior Rae Rae Sayles motioned for the fans to make some noise. And throughout the game, Gilmore seemed to be the most intense player on the court, which helped her produce eight points, eight boards, six steals and four assists.

And Peck, whose team has now won 43 consecutive games against teams from Florida, including an 11-point win last year against the Bulls, also noticed a difference.

“Definitely so,” Peck said. “That’s a team that they’re tough; they come at you. I think that every year USF is going to get better and better. The players are extremely competitive.”

That competitiveness was apparent in the first half when the Bulls and Gators traded baskets for the first 20 minutes. USF’s largest lead was five points, 16-11, with 8:01 left in the first half after Cambridge scored six consecutive points to erase a one-point deficit. USF had a two-point advantage with 1:47 left in the first half when freshman Jessica Dickson, who managed just 12 points on four of 19 shooting, hit one of two free throws.

The Gators managed to tie the game at 27 on a Hayden field goal, her ninth point of the half.

But in the end, the Bulls just didn’t have enough. However, the players feel they are on the right track, and it’s just a matter now of finding the right combination to form a winning team.

“If everyone wants to win, we just have to get the right keys together,” Gilmore said. “We’ve got the team to win, we’ve just got to get the right keys to turn the lock.”