Unfamiliar surroundings

Synonymous with the USF women’s basketball team (17-9, 7-6) is the nation’s leading scorer, junior Jessica Dickson. But few are familiar with the teammates who surround her.

Junior Rachael Sheats. Senior Ezria Parsons. Freshman Shanita Grace. Junior Nalini Miller.

Three of them scored in double digits, while Miller was just a point and a rebound away from a double-double coming off the bench in the Bulls 66-57 win over Marquette (16-7, 7-5) on Thursday.

Dickson, who averages 23 points a game, was held to just two points in the first half, while shooting 1-for-8 from field-goal range.

Coach Jose Fernandez said his other players stepped up this week in practice, which Dickson was mostly absent for due to a tailbone injury she suffered Saturday against Pittsburgh.

“You’ll ask: Why did Jessica Dickson play so poorly?” Fernandez said. “She didn’t practice all week. She took a charge on the last play against Pittsburgh, and I think she played in a great amount of plays tonight. So like a jump shooter such as herself, it’s tough coming off that bounce and it’s painful.”

While Dickson had one of her few down nights, Sheats tied Dickson with a team-high 14 points, Grace and Parsons both added 13, and Miller scored nine coming off the bench.

“It was important for us to step up,” Sheats said. “During the whole game, (Fernandez) kept reminding us if we wanted to make the NCAA tournament, we all had to step up. So while that was in the back of everyone’s mind, we were still all thinking a little of the Pittsburgh game, which we couldn’t let (bother us).”

Miller, who has not started the last five games after first 20, said she still feels comfortable coming off the bench.

“Truth be told, I don’t mind coming off the bench,” Miller said. “I don’t mind because I sit next to the coaches and they point out what I need to do. I like it better how it is now, because I can now see what’s going on (at the start of the game).”

The Bulls jumped to a 15-4 lead in the first half, and led 32-26 at halftime, but 17 second-half points by forward Christina Quaye helped Marquette tie the game at 50.

But with 1:49 left in the game, Dickson, who shot 4-for-17, made a crucial three-pointer to take a 61-56 lead, as the Golden Eagles scored just one more point afterward.

With just three conference games left, the Bulls are trying to push their RPI higher – which is 38th according to rpiratings.com – for their first NCAA tournament berth. However, with Thursday’s win over the Golden Eagles, USF is now just one win away from a guaranteed Big East tournament berth, but two of those three games are on the road.

Prior to the game, Marquette was ranked fourth in the Big East, while USF was eighth. After the game, Fernandez stressed how important it was to get the win.

“We didn’t put keys to the game up on the board tonight,” Fernandez said. “Tonight was the most important game of the season. It was a must win. If we want to go to the NCAA tournament, then we needed to win tonight.”