Bulls drop their fifth conference contest

Jessica Dickson and Rachael Sheats supplied most of the offense Saturday against West Virginia, but USF received little production elsewhere and fell 73-64 to the Mountaineers.

Dickson recorded her third-straight double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds while Sheats notched a season-high in Big East Conference play with 16 points and five rebounds.

The rest of the team combined for only 20 points and 16 rebounds.

“We had a lot of no-shows tonight and that was very disappointing,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “Jessica carried us for awhile but I’m really disappointed in some of our other guys.”

Point guard Shantia Grace was held to a season-low two points. She failed to connect from the field for the first time all season on three tries, to go along with three assists and three turnovers.

Grace leads the Big East in assists with 129 and ranks 13th in scoring average with 15.2 points per game.

West Virginia (17-9, 8-5) erased a four-point halftime deficit by outscoring the Bulls 46-33 in the second half. The trio of Olayinka Sanni (22 points), Chakhia Cole (18), and Sparkle Davis (17) proved to be too much for the Bulls to handle defensively.

“In the second half West Virginia controlled the paint,” Fernandez said. “They had 34 points and we had only 16, that was the big thing. You have to be held accountable on both ends of the floor.”

A major factor for the Bulls’ struggles defensively was center Nalini Miller’s absence due to early foul trouble. The senior finished with just six points and three rebounds in 25 minutes of play.

After falling behind 53-44, the Bulls (18-8, 8-5) stormed back and trimmed the lead to two, but failed to pull any closer throughout the remainder of the contest.

“We didn’t get the defensive stops we needed,” Sheats said. “They had a little more energy than us and wanted it more.”

The Mountaineers connected on five of seven shots from beyond the arc during the second half to put the game out of reach and hand USF its third loss in four gamesWest Virginia is now 12-1 at home with their lone loss coming to then No. 5 Connecticut.

For Dickson, her 28 points moved her past Pittsburgh’s Shavonte Zellous into second place in conference scoring average with 20.3 points per game. Dickson trails Charlie Bradley’s all-time scoring record of 2,319 points by just 35.

Since conference play started, Dickson and Grace have yet to score 20 points in the same game, a feat they accomplished three times earlier in the season.

“All of us have the talent to have big games but we need to find a way for all of us to bring it at the same time,” Sheats said. “I think if we can get everyone to step it up on the same day then we can accomplish good things.”

With the loss, the Bulls entered into a four-way tie for fifth place with West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Louisville. USF only holds a tie-breaker advantage over the Cardinals.

While the Bulls already have secured a slot in the conference tournament, they must win out for a chance at a first-round bye. Connecticut already clinched a share of the regular-season championship with an 82-68 victory over Pittsburgh.

USF hosts the Huskies Tuesday. The Bulls close out their season at No. 21 Marquette and return home to play Seton Hall.

“Right now we’re at a critical point in our season,” Fernandez said. “Now we have to play two of the top four teams in our league. We’ll see how our team responds.”