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Just the beginning

USF 60 | Seton Hall 51

The challenge against Seton Hall has just begun.

After holding off the Pirates for a 60-51 victory Monday night at the Sun Dome, the women’s basketball team found out it will have to face Seton Hall in Hartford, Conn. during first-round action in the Big East Tournament.

On a night when Jessica Dickson became the all-time leading scorer in USF history, the Bulls were unable to establish their up-tempo style of play.

“We wanted to crawl the ball up the floor unless we had a breakaway,” Seton Hall coach Phyllis Mangina said. “(USF) wants to fly up and down the floor; we weren’t going to do that with them.”

During the first half, the Bulls (19-9, 9-7) had seven shots blocked and managed to shoot just 31.4 percent from the field. Even though USF struggled, they never trailed by more than four points.

“This game wasn’t a really good game for us,” Dickson said. “They played really well defensively, but we were just able to hang in and keep it close.”

For the game, the Bulls were held to 19-of-58 shooting from the field and finished the night shooting 11 percent from three-point range.

Coming into the game, the Pirates (18-10, 9-7) were undefeated when allowing fewer than 60 points in a game. The Bulls felt a return trip to the NCAA Tournament is contingent on their performance in the upcoming Big East Tournament.

“We just have to go to Hartford and win our first-round game,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “It looks like we’re going to play Seton Hall again and if we can get that one it’ll put us at 20 (wins).”

The last team USF has defeated twice in the regular season was Notre Dame a year ago. But during the opening round of the Big East Tournament, the Bulls fell to the Fighting Irish 73-66 in Hartford.

“We know it’s not going to be easy beating the same team twice,” guard Tristen Webb said. “So we just have to come and play because we know we didn’t play our best game today.”

Entering the contest, the Bulls and Seton Hall had similar resumés. USF’s Ratings Percentage Index (a measurement for strength of schedule) is 49 while Seton Hall’s is 53.

Both teams have defeated ranked opponents and have a record of 9-7 in Big East play. Each team is considered a “bubble” team for the NCAA Tournament.

“Part of the criteria is to have a really high RPI, which we do (and) beat a couple of ranked teams, which we have,” Mangina said. “So far I’m checking off the list, but I have to see what (the NCAA voting) committee wants to do.”

Fernandez feels the same way.

“I think our strength of schedule is still very positive,” Fernandez said. “So we’ll see.”

In the Big East Tournament the Bulls will have the No. 8 seed and Seton Hall will be the No. 9.

Since the team is making a return trip to the conference tournament, the players feel there is less pressure than they had last year during their initial appearance.

“I think we got through that nervous part last year,” guard Rachael Sheats said. “Now that we’re in our second year going back to the Big East Tournament, I think the nerves are out of us.”

For the third straight year, USF matched a regular-season high with 19 victories. Fernandez was glad his team was able to win on senior night and even joked about his sixth-year senior.

“Tristen Webb, she’s had three senior nights,” Fernandez said. “I think she has got a different color jersey, tonight’s was gold. She has a white one and a green one already.”