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Women handed first loss by No. 20 Michigan St.

The women’s basketball team saw its struggles against ranked opponents continue Sunday against No. 20 Michigan State in a 79-71 loss.

Trailing by four points with 1 minute, 24 seconds remaining, point guard Shantia Grace’s ill-advised pass attempt to Nalini Miller was stolen by Rene Haynes, and Haynes’ ensuing lay-up ruined the Bulls’ hopes for a comeback.

With a season-high 18 turnovers, USF’s uncharacteristic sloppy ball handling led to its first loss of the season.

“We beat ourselves by making very, very poor decisions with the ball,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “Some of those turnovers were unforced, and against a team like Michigan State, you can’t do that.”

The Bulls (7-1) trailed by as many as 12 but never let Michigan State (5-1) hold a comfortable lead.

Grace finished with a team-high 21 points and six assists but committed seven turnovers. Jessica Dickson added 20 points and Rachael Sheats contributed 10 points, all in the second half.

But the team couldn’t manage the one defensive stop it needed to build some momentum in the second half.

“We couldn’t get that one stop we needed,” Dickson said. “At times they out-hustled us, getting some offensive rebounds. We have to take more pride in the game and want it more if we’re going to beat these tougher teams.”

One of the main reasons why the Bulls never led in the second half was the play of Michigan State 6-foot-9 freshman Allyssa DeHaan. The center finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight blocked shots to lead the Spartans.

“She’s 6 (feet) 9, so they lobbed the ball to her and she would turn and score,” Dickson said. “We let her be in her comfort zone, and she had a big game.”

Victoria Lucas-Perry scored 21 points, and Haynes finished with 14 points and six assists for Michigan State. After losing to Hofstra, the Spartans have now won their last four contests.

The Bulls entered the half trailing for the first time all season as Michigan State jumped to a 38-33 advantage.

After winning their first seven games, all at the Sun Dome, facing a ranked opponent on the road proved to be a tough challenge for the Bulls.

Last season USF finished 4-7 on the road and 2-5 against ranked opponents.

The Bulls are 0-9 all-time against Big Ten opponents, including an 81-56 defeat at the hands of the Spartans last year.

Coming into the game, USF was beginning to obtain some national recognition. The latest AP rankings saw the Bulls receiving 24 votes, but their lack of quality opponents prevented them from becoming ranked.

Even though his team lost, Fernandez felt the game was a learning experience for USF, and the Bulls were able to see firsthand what it takes to be considered among the best teams in the country.

“It was a good game for us, definitely going to help us,” Fernandez said. “Michigan State is a team we could be playing in the NCAA Tournament. We know we’re going to have to step up if we’re going to win games like this one.”