During a season filled with blown opportunities for the women’s basketball team, perhaps none was worse than Saturday’s 75-63 loss at No. 19 Marquette.
The Bulls (18-10, 8-7) suffered through the worst second half of their season, and may have lost an opportunity to secure a second-consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
“You can have all the talent in the world, but if you lack a little bit of leadership, you’re not going to be very good,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
The Golden Eagles (23-5, 11-4) used a 17-3 run to open the second half, turning a 10-point deficit into a four-point advantage they never surrendered. Christina Quaye led all scorers with 26 points, and teammate Krystal Ellis added 21 to lead Marquette.
Marquette outscored the Bulls 43-23 to close out the game. The Golden Eagles are now 12-1 at home, and the victory keeps Marquette ranked third in the Big East Conference. The win also clinched the team a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
“I don’t think we got a defensive stop when we needed one,” Fernandez said. “In the second half, we had two people play well and three didn’t. That’s the inconsistency we’ve had all year.”
With their fifth loss in six games, the Bulls have dropped from second place in the conference to ninth with only one regular-season contest remaining. Saturday marked the first time all season the Bulls have dropped three consecutive games.
USF is now 1-12 all-time against Marquette.
“What I was most disappointed in was we did not match their intensity,” Fernandez said. “That’s the difference between where our team is right now and a lot of other teams in our league.”
USF started the contest with perhaps its best first half of the season. Shantia Grace scored 17 points, including five three-pointers, while Jessica Dickson connected on three shots from three-point range, finishing the half with nine points.
As a team, USF shot 8-11 from three-point range, and finished the half shooting 51.6 percent from the field. USF is shooting 32 percent from three-point range this season.
But Dickson went scoreless during the second half and failed to reach double figures for the first time sinceJan. 24, 2006 against Connecticut, when she matched a career-low with six points.
Grace finished the game with 23 points, but failed to connect from the three-point range after halftime.
As a team, the Bulls shot 20 percent from the field and went 1-10 from three-point range in the second half.
“It was a tale of two halves. Shantia Grace had a very good first half,” Fernandez said. “You feel good to be up 10 at half, and in the second half, that right there is the tale of our season.”
Dickson remains 16 points shy of surpassing Charlie Bradley on the all-time career scoring record at USF.
The setbacks continued for the Bulls after the game, as their flight from Milwaukee was delayed because of a blizzard. USF is scheduled to host Seton Hall in its regular-season finale tonight at the Sun Dome.
“(The delay) has a huge effect because we’re going to have to rush through practice (Sunday night) to get things in order for Monday,” Fernandez said.