Saturday’s all right for Fighting

The USF women’s basketball team (14-7, 4-4) captured what might be considered its biggest victory of the season Saturday.

The Bulls’ second upset of the season, a 68-64 overtime victory over No. 21 Notre Dame (12-7, 3-5), gave the team a spark that could carry them through the rest of conference play.

“We’ve been in some close ball games this season and this is a game that can send us into a good run,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “This was a good win for us, and we had a lot of people contribute. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this season with injuries, so it’s good to see players step up.”

The women’s team has had an emotional couple of weeks. After losing two games by a total of three points, including a 66-65 heartbreaker to then-No. 10 Rutgers, USF won consecutive home games over Syracuse and Providence. But the season hit its low point on the road against No. 5 Connecticut with an embarrassing 77-47 loss.

Fernandez was frustrated with the Bulls play and questioned the character of the team. The result of Fernandez’s challenge was a big conference victory on the road over a ranked opponent.

“I’m happy for our players,” Fernandez said. “We had players step up and make plays. We haven’t defended well this year, and we did a good job in the first half.”

USF had to hold off the Fighting Irish in the second half, who battled back from a 34-21 halftime deficit. The Bulls received big plays against Notre Dame from senior leader Ezria Parsons and freshman guard Jessica Jackson. Parsons hit only her third three-pointer of the season with two seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.

In the extra play, Jackson hit a three-pointer that gave the Bulls a 65-62 lead and Jessica Dickson hit two free throws to give USF the victory. Senior center Nalini Miller had a solid performance with 10 points and seven rebounds.

“I think it’s big to get contributions from those players,” Fernandez said. “We have eight games left to play, so we will see what happens.”

With the victory, the Bulls pulled into a tie with Pittsburgh for fifth place in the Big East. The win also signaled a possible turnaround for a team needing something positive to build on.

“It puts us on the right track – getting back to winning,” Dickson said. “(It) was definitely a whole team effort; everybody contributed. I think everybody did a great job.”