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With win over Cincy, women stay unbeaten in conference

After falling to one of the top teams in all of women’s basketball, the Bulls quickly rebounded Saturday night and captured their second conference win of the season.

Shantia Grace scored 19 points to lead USF to a 67-49 victory over Cincinnati at the Sun Dome. The Bulls (12-3, 2-0) are off to their best start since the 1976-77 season, when they opened their season with a15-2 record.

“We felt like (Cincinnati) shouldn’t have beaten us last year, so they’re not going to beat us this year,” Grace said. “We really wanted to protect the home floor, and we’re on a mission to win the Big East this year.”

Despite the Bulls’ good start, they have yet to achieve a big win against a rankedopponent.

USF beat Jacksonville, Vermont and St. Joseph’s in the past few weeks, but fell short during both chances to defeat a top team.

On Dec. 17, the Bulls played their inaugural game at the St. Pete Times Forum against then-No. 12 Vanderbilt. The Commodores jumped to a 13-point lead in the first half before USF rallied at the beginning of the second half.

Vanderbilt responded and took the lead for good with 7 minutes, 30 seconds remaining and defeated the Bulls 76-68. USF forward Jessica Dickson led all scorers with 23 points and had 11 rebounds.

On Wednesday, the team had a chance to avenge an 84-44 loss, its worst of last season, to No. 6 Louisiana State. And the Bulls appeared to be heading to victory early on.

USF opened the game with a 16-2 run and led 28-23 at halftime. The Tigers, however, were able to establish 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles in the second half and finished with a 60-48 victory, improving their record to 14-1.

Fowles ended the game with 15 points and 16 rebounds, and Erica White led the Tigers with a career-high 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field. Dickson scored 22 points to lead USF.

When the Bulls defeated Vermont 77-62 during the first round of the Saint Joseph’s University Hawk Classic, coach Jose Fernandez became the program’s leader in career victories with 89, surpassing the mark set by Trudi Lacey in 1996.

Fernandez is now 91-98 in his seventh season as the Bulls head coach.

In the tournament finale, USF battled host St. Joseph’s. Trailing by three with time running out, Dickson sent the game to overtime with a shot from beyond the arc and only .08 seconds remaining in the game.

Dickson then scored four of the team’s nine points in the extra session, giving the Bulls an 80-76 win. Dickson was named tournament MVP, and Grace was named to the all-tournament team for her efforts.

While Fernandez was pleased with his team’s progress, he knows USF has to beat nationally ranked teams for the program to take the next step.

“We’ve gone out and played the best teams we can schedule,” Fernandez said. “It’s helped us recruiting, but we have to start winning these (games).”