Though USF women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez’s game plan Saturday against No. 24 Houston seemed to work to perfection in the first half, the Bulls couldn’t survive one big Cougars run to begin the second half and fell 62-57 in the Sun Dome.
Houston trailed by six points at the half but opened the second half on a 14-2 run in the first five minutes. Though the Bulls were able to get back in the game, mostly due to the outstanding play of freshman Jessica Dickson, USF was never able to retake the lead in the second half.
“We knew it was going to be major matchup problems,” Fernandez said. “I thought we had a pretty good game plan. We played a matchup zone, a 2-3 zone, we just did not (get it done).”
The Bulls zone defense was so effective in the first half that they allowed the Cougars only seven total field goals, holding the team to 22.6 percent from the field. The change in defense also prohibited Houston’s standout guard Chandi Jones from getting off to a fast start. Jones made just 2 of 9 field goals in the first half, including missing all four of her attempts from the 3-point range.
But Fernandez knew it was just a matter of time before the Cougars started to roll offensively, and he had hoped his team would be able to respond.
“A good team like that isn’t going to continue to shoot the ball as bad as they did (in the first half),” Fernandez said. “We knew the run was coming, but when the run was going to come we needed to answer, and we just didn’t answer on the offensive end.”
However, the Bulls were able to fight back late in the second half, behind some extremely hot shooting from Dickson.
After being limited to just two points in the first half because of foul trouble and a sprained left wrist, Dickson responded with 23 second-half points, including 14 of the Bulls’ final 16 points in the game.
The Bulls trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, but Dickson connected on a pair of free throws with 19.7 seconds remaining, cutting USF’s deficit to two points at 59-57.
The Bulls then had the ball and Dickson brought it down court with a play designed for her, but she got double-teamed after the play never developed and passed the ball to Andrea Armstrong, who missed on a deep jumper.
“We wanted to get a screen and roll isolation, but the screen didn’t come,” Fernandez said. “The play was supposed to be a high screen and roll for her, but when the screen didn’t come, she thought it was late in the clock and realized and threw it to Andrea.”
Things won’t get any easier for the Bulls tonight when they host No. 17 TCU at 7 p.m. Like Houston, which has Jones, the Horned Frogs have their own standout in Sandora Irvin, who averages a double-double and leads the conference in blocked shots.
Though the Bulls played well with the zone defense against Houston, Fernandez said it doesn’t mean his team will continue with that trend tonight.
“TCU has a little more of a different team,” Fernandez said. “They’re more balanced. We will play some zone. I mean ,tonight we played 90 percent matchup and 2-3 (zone).”
However, Fernandez said the way his team came back and played against Houston is definitely a positive heading into tonight’s game.
“It is, it is, but we just need to close it out,” Fernandez said.