Bulls closing in

Daiane Packer provided the spark off the bench the Bulls were looking for all season and helped keep their hopes alive for reaching another NCAA Tournament.

Packer finished with a season-high 16 points, leading USF (18-7, 8-4) to a 78-64 road victory over Providence.

USF’s bench outscored the Friars 19-7 behind the sharp outside shooting of Packer. The junior college transfer connected on five shots from beyond the arc to go along with two rebounds and two assists.

“My role on the team is to go out there and hit a three and help create (opportunities) for my teammates,” Packer said. “It felt really good to help my team the way I did tonight.”

A strained left calf caused Packer to miss a total of 10 games this season, leaving the Bulls without their most potent scorer off the bench.

“I think she shot the ball really well tonight,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “We’ve really missed her because she’s been hurt. (Packer) is a big part of our team right now.”

After falling behind by five at halftime, the Bulls stepped up defensively and outscored the Friars 45-26 to close out the game.

“We didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and I wasn’t happy with how we defended,” Fernandez said. “But (with) a different lineup, we were able to get going in the second half.”

Packer’s nine points in the second half helped the team take control of the game.Senior Jessica Dickson led all scorers with 20 points and now sits just 63 points behind Charlie Bradley’s all-time scoring record of 2,319 at USF. Dickson reached the 20-point plateau for the 14th time this season.

Dickson bounced back from a 2-for-18 shooting performance -her worst of the season – during the Bulls’ loss to Pittsburgh Saturday to shoot 7-for-14 from the field Tuesday.

The Bulls were able to snap their first losing streak of the season, after suffering losses to DePaul and Pittsburgh in the team’s previous two outings. And the 14-point margin was the largest conference road victory for the team.

USF is now 3-3 in conference road contests.The win, coupled with a loss by Louisville, puts the Bulls in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big East Conference Tournament with Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and the Cardinals.

With eight conference wins, Fernandez feels his team is just two victories away from automatically qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

“I think we’re in good shape right now,” Fernandez said. “We’re just focused on closing out the season and getting back into the NCAA Tournament.”