Bulls still perfect at home in conference

On Jan. 16, women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez complained of the small crowd that saw the Bulls upset over then-No. 15 Louisville. He used an expletive, but now Fernandez wants to move past his complaints.

A crowd of 1,301 showed up for Saturday’s 74-61 win against St. John’s and got a taste of what Fernandez and crew have been trying to sell all season.

Senior Jessica Dickson was doing what she does best – scoring with ease – while four other USF players scored in double digits. And even though USF improved its home record to 13-1 and 5-0 in conference play, the Red Storm (7-13, 3-6) trailed at halftime by only one point.

“We weren’t getting anything out of full-court pressure in the first half,” Fernandez said. “We played much better defensively in the second half.”

The Bulls looked sluggish late in the first half even though Dickson had 10 points, including the first four of the game. The Red Storm shut down Dickson – the Big East’s second leading scorer – until the second half when she scored 18 points, including six fast break points.

“When I get (double teamed), coach tells me to look for (forward) Nalini (Miller) or for (guard) Tia (Shantia Grace) on the run,” Dickson said. “(Getting doubled) is going to happen, so I’m going to look for my teammates.”

Miller, Grace and forward ChiChi Okpaleke scored a combined 35 points, had 24 rebounds, five assists and five blocks.”We needed to turn it up defensively and I think that’s what made the game more up-tempo,” Dickson said. “Coach Fernandez was stressing that.”

As for the Bulls’ defense, Miller – who has a double-double in four of the last five games – said the slow start didn’t catch the team off guard.

“(Fernandez said) we had to pick it up (at halftime),” said Miller, who is nursing a slight left groin strain. “They didn’t (catch us by surprise). We knew they were going to play their hardest because they want to get to conference play as much as we do.”

Dickson said getting St. John’s top three scorers – guards Monique McLean (16 points) and Kia Wright (five points) and forward Tiina Sten (13 points) – into foul trouble in the first half was key to the victory. While those three had three fouls each in the first half, center Angel Tate scored a team-high 18 points.

“It was important,” Dickson said. “Wright, the point guard – everything runs through her, so to get her in foul trouble really helped us and so we just kept attacking everyone that had two or three fouls.”Fernandez added, “Having those three kids in foul trouble at halftime was really key.”

Miller said St. John’s poor conference record doesn’t represent the team the Bulls played Saturday.

“It doesn’t matter who has on the white uniform, (St. John’s) is going to come out to play,” Miller said. “We have to get into that comfort zone where we say to ourselves, ‘We know we’re going to win this game.’ And we have to get to the point where we’re not going to lay down on them.”The crowd was the second largest of the season, and if Fernandez is still looking for more support, USF (17-5, 7-2) hosts No. 6 Connecticut on Feb. 20.

“It was a good basketball atmosphere tonight, good atmosphere,” Fernandez said. “Hopefully we can put all that crowd stuff behind us.”

“Tonight’s crowd was good,” Miller said. “Now we hope they all come back.”