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Five points, three losses

On Sunday, the women’s basketball team played in its fourth consecutive conference game decided by two points or less when it fell to Cincinnati 89-87. Their penchant for close games wouldn’t be an issue for coach Jose Fernandez if his team wasn’t 1-3 in those games.

“It’s frustrating,” Fernandez said. “You can’t dwell on it; you can’t continue to keep looking back on it – you have to look forward.”

But it gets increasingly harder and harder to look forward as the Bulls keep coming up short. It all started when USF lost at Pittsburgh 66-64, then to No. 10 Rutgers 66-65, and now, with Sunday’s two-point loss to Cincinnati, the Bulls have dropped their last three Big East games to slip to 13th in the conference standings. It’s a problem Fernandez is sure he has diagnosed.

“We were without (Ezria) Parsons (at Cincinnati) and we just need some other people to step up off the bench,” Fernandez said. “We don’t have any people giving us any production from off the bench.”

In its last three games, USF has had its normal production from Jessica Dickson, who has carried the Bulls by contributing 24, 30 and a career-high 37 points against Rutgers to improve her NCAA-best scoring average to 25.1 points. But the Bulls’ bench has been anemic.

Against Cincinnati, USF’s bench was outscored by the Bearcats’ 48-3, and for the past three games the Bulls’ reserves have a combined 11 points.

But the Bulls’ bench isn’t lacking ability – it lacks depth. With Parsons out, the Bulls dressed only eight players against Cincinnati, and Fernandez has counted on several young players, such as freshman Shantia Grace, to lead the team despite a lack of experience.

The Bulls’ Big East schedule started out with promise, winning their first conference game against No. 13 DePaul 79-77 in overtime. But the euphoria of the biggest upset in USF basketball history is starting to subside, and the Bulls are starting to get sick of all the buzzer beaters.

In each game, the Bulls have had a chance to win the game only to have the shot come up short or rattle out of the basket. USF is five points away from being undefeated in Big East play, a stat that Fernandez acknowledges while looking at game film.

“You look back at all the little things you could of done during the game to not lose by one or two points,” Fernandez said.

Despite the Bulls third conference loss, Fernandez was still proud of the resolve his team showed by battling back from a 14-point deficit against Cincinnati to have a chance to win. The fourth-year coach has admitted there is a problem, but it’s nothing that a little practice can’t fix.

“We’re 1-3, but we could easily be 4-0,” Fernandez said. “Right now it’s going to really show what type of team we are, how well we can bounce back from these losses.

“We just got to get back to practice and get better and keep working – keep fighting.”