The USF women’s basketball team hoped to carry the momentum from a victory against No. 18 TCU into its Conference USA weekend games against Cincinnati and Louisville, a pair of teams that the Bulls have never beaten on the road.
Though USF did start the weekend by defeating the Bearcats 66-64 in overtime Friday, the Bulls (10-13, 3-7 C-USA) couldn’t keep pace with Louisville’s hot-shooting Sara Nord and fell 86-71 Sunday at Freedom Hall.
It seemed as though USF did everything right against Louisville. The Bulls shot 52 percent from the field. They out-rebounded the Cardinals. They even shot 71 percent from the free-throw line.
But the Cardinals (14-8, 6-3) countered with Nord, who scored a game-high 30 points on 10 of 20 shooting, including 7 of 12 from three-point range, and that proved to be just enough to beat USF.
“Offensively, Sara Nord is one of the best players in our league,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “We threw everybody at Nord and she just had a great game.
“She had a remarkable game on Friday against UAB. She hit 15 three-pointers in two games, and she was shooting from 23 feet out with a hand in her face. Every one she shot she was coming off screens with the ball in her hands and a defender draped all over her.”
Nord’s seven three-pointers were part of 11 threes in the game for Louisville, who shot 57 percent from behind the arc. And though the Bulls countered with three players in double figures, including 27 points from freshman Jessica Dickson, they couldn’t chip away enough at their 10-point halftime deficit.
“We just didn’t come up with the same defensive intensity that we had against Cincinnati (on Friday),” Fernandez said.
The Bulls played their second consecutive overtime game against the Bearcats (11-12, 4-6) to start the weekend, resulting in the team’s second consecutive overtime win this season.
Dickson scored a game-high 27 points on 13 of 27 shooting, while junior point guard Anedra Gilmore added 10 points, three assists and three steals.
The win was USF’s third in conference play, the most since Fernandez’s second season, when the Bulls won four conference games and posted just the second winning season since joining C-USA.
“It was a big win in a lot of different facets,” Fernandez said. “We’ve been (in games that were close) so many times this year, but now we have people stepping up and not letting us lose.”
Though the Bulls picked up only one win this weekend, it may prove to be one of the biggest this season. With four games remaining, all of which are against teams with worse conference records than the Bulls, it seems that only a number of major upsets will keep the Bulls out of the C-USA tournament this season.
Three of USF’s last four games are at home, and two are against UAB, the worst team in the conference. One more win this season should be enough for the Bulls to clinch a berth in the conference tournament.
With postseason thoughts and dreams looming above most teams at this time of the year, Fernandez said he has talked to his team about the postseason, but not necessarily about just the conference postseason tournament.
“To tell you the truth, we’ve been talking to our kids about the postseason — about reaching possibly the NIT or the NCAA (tournament),” Fernandez said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about. Going in our conference tournament, yeah, it’s something, (but) that’s to be expected.
“We have the next three (games) at home; we’re going to play one at a time, work hard and hopefully we’ll play well on both sides of the floor.”