A two-loss weekend for USF

After falling to Conference USA opponent Marquette by 20 points Friday in the Sun Dome, this didn’t look good for the USF women’s basketball team heading into Sunday’s home game against now No. 16 DePaul.

However, following USF’s 74-64 loss to the Blue Demons (16-1, 4-0 C-USA) in the Sun Dome, the Bulls (7-10, 0-4) were probably kicking themselves in the rear, knowing they had let a very winnable game slip away against one of the nation’s premier teams.

What hurt the Bulls the most was their inability to hit free throws down the stretch, connecting on just 5 of 12 in the final 6:13 of the game. USF made 16 of 28 free-throw attempts in the game but just 8 of 18 in the second half.

“You don’t ever want to point at one thing,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said, “but we definitely had our opportunities.”

The free-throw woes couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the Bulls. With 6:13 to go in the game and DePaul nursing a 71-61 lead, Sharon Cambridge was able to draw a fifth foul against C-USA’s leading scorer and rebounder entering Sunday, DePaul’s Khara Smith. Cambridge went to the line with a chance to cut the Bulls’ deficit to single digits, which hadn’t happened since midway through the first half, but she missed both free throws.

“You get (Khara Smith) out of the game with six to go or seven (minutes) to go, that’s your move right there to make a pitch,” Fernandez said. “We just couldn’t make it happen.”

Less than a minute later and with USF down only eight points freshman Rachael Sheats, who was one of four Bulls in double figures, went to the line for two more free throws and another chance to cut the deficit. But Sheats missed the first attempt, and Cambridge was called for a lane violation on the second attempt, keeping the score at 71-63.

“Definitely yes,” freshman guard Jessica Dickson said concerning whether the missed free throws made a difference in the outcome.

“If we hit them, we’re down only three or four (with significant time to play),” Dickson said.

The Bulls managed to cut DePaul’s lead to six, 78-72, when Dickson, who scored a game-high 21 points and went 7 of 8 from the free-throw line, converted a traditional 3-point play with 1:07 remaining in the game. However, DePaul hit all six of its free-throw attempts in the final minute, and 31 of 36 in the game, to seal the victory.

Ezria Parsons added a career-high 14 points for the Bulls, while Cambridge and Sheats each chipped in 10 points.

The loss was USF’s fourth in a row, and seventh consecutive loss in C-USA play dating back to last season, after a 60-40 setback Friday against the Golden Eagles (13-4, 3-1).

USF trailed by 14 points in the second half before the Bulls went on a 10-2 run, with six points coming from Dickson. USF guard Tristen Webb connected on a three-pointer to put the Bulls within three points at 43-40. However, Marquette used a 17-0 run in the final 6:38 of the game to close out the win.

“We battled back on Friday against Marquette, and then they finished it off (because) we struggled scoring there at the end,” Fernandez said.

Dickson led the Bulls with 12 points and 12 rebounds, her second double-double of the season.

The Bulls are now forced to battle back into the conference picture from the bottom, and that’s a situation Fernandez hoped could have been avoided.

“This league is a very tough league,” Fernandez said. “When you drop your first two on the road, two winnable games … we’ve had our share of bad luck.

“Yeah, right now our backs are against the wall, but we’re not going to fold. We have to come back next week and get at least one of two on the road.”

And Dickson echoed her coach’s thoughts of getting back into the win column, something she feels must be done this coming weekend.

“It is getting to that point,” Dickson said. “(But) I think that the momentum we had in the second half (against DePaul) should carry over into the next game.

“Right now we’re just trying to feel our way through, stay positive and keep our heads up. We just have to keep on going, think positive and stay positive.”