The panic over the women’s basketball team’s three-game losing streak is over after the Bulls got back to their winning ways with a 73-55 victory over Syracuse on Wednesday night at the Sun Dome.
USF had a balanced attack in the win with four players scoring in double figures. Junior Jessica Dickson led the Bulls with a game-high 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Junior Rachael Sheats added 12 points, with freshman Shantia Grace and junior Nalini Miller adding another 10 points apiece.
“Maybe everyone can start relaxing around here. They were in a panic because we lost three games,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “The last three games have been mentally and physically draining, but as bad as we played tonight we still got the win.”
USF also got a lift off the bench with senior Sharon Cambridge, sophomore ChiChi Okpaleke and freshman Jessica Jackson combining for 11 points. The bench combined for 11 points in the past three games.
“We need an extra spark on offense,” Fernandez said.
USF struggled to put the Orange away, allowing Syracuse to close within 10 points of the lead late in the second half. Behind six points on the strength of a run by sophomore center Vaida Sipaviciute, the Orange cut the lead to 61-51 with 4:35 remaining.
“They should have never gone on that run late in the game,” Fernandez said. “Maybe it’s a lack of depth or a lack of focus, but we let this team back in the game and we shouldn’t have.”Fernandez called a quick timeout and changed up his defensive scheme, trapping Syracuse’s guards in the backcourt.
“I think the difference came when we were pressuring the ball and doing what we do best,” Miller said.
USF answered the Orange run late in the second half by finishing on a 12-4 run to close out the game. Sheats, who grabbed eight rebounds in the victory, made some big shots during the run, scoring six points. Sheats picked up the scoring for the Bulls in the second half, with Dickson falling in a shooting slump. Dickson, who tweaked her knee early in the second half, went three for 14 from the field in the second half.
“It was very big to get scoring from all Sheats, Miller and Jackson,” Dickson said. “Coach challenged the team to step up, and they did a good job of answering that challenge.”
USF’s interior defense came up big against Sipaviciute, who came in as Syracuse’s leading scorer, averaging more than 18 points per game. Despite scoring 12 points in the second half, Sipaviciute was held to two points in the first half. However, Syracuse coach Keith Cieplicki didn’t start Sipaviciute, as he was trying to establish some balance on his young squad.
“We’ve started her off and on all year long because everyone is geared up for her,” Cieplicki said. “We really need to force other players to make plays for our team.”
USF grabbed the early lead with 16 first-half points from Dickson. The Bulls ended the half on a 15-5 run to take a commanding 41-27 lead. Senior Ezria Parsons, who was questionable for Wednesday’s game with a back injury, scored five points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“She helped us out tremendously on the defensive side of the ball,” Fernandez said. “And it was good to see her attack the basket in the second half.”