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Bulls winless in Big East

Syracuse 67, USF 60

After Saturday night’s 67-60 loss to the Syracuse Orange, the USF women’s basketball team is in a very unfamiliar position: searching for their first conference victory.

USF (10-6, 0-3) started conference play with three straight losses. The Bulls are on their first three-game conference losing streak since 2005, their first year in the Big East.

Early in the game, USF managed to keep it close with Syracuse (14-2, 2-1). The Bulls took an early lead, but the Orange managed to pull away late in the first half.

With junior center Jessica Lawson slowed by an injured hamstring and junior forward Brittany Denson on the bench because of foul trouble, Syracuse went on a 13-2 run to end the first half. USF faced a 34-24 halftime deficit, and the game looked like it could become a blowout.

USF coach Jose Fernandez was pleased with the defensive effort of his team.

“We held them to 34 points at the half,” Fernandez said. “Not a bad job defensively … I don’t have any problem with our effort today. I thought we played hard.”

The beginning of the second half was a critical juncture for the Bulls. At a time in which they easily could have folded, USF began the second half on a 9-0 run to cut the Syracuse lead to one.

Denson – refreshed by having played only four minutes in the first half – scored four points and blocked three shots during the scoring run. She finished the game with 10 points and 13 rebounds while playing 22 minutes off the bench.

“During halftime, coach (Fernandez) said that the first four minutes are going to be crucial,” junior guard Jazmine Sepulveda said. “He said we had to play strong and be ready to play. We also got Brittany Denson back, and she came out strong.”

Denson was not the only player to get time off the bench. In fact, the Bulls saw six reserves get playing time, with freshman guard Gianna Messina going 2 for 2 from behind the three-point line.

Using the strong bench play – and a 16-point performance from junior guard Shantia Grace – the Bulls managed to take the lead 50-49 with 5:48 left to play in the game.

Despite the Bulls battling back, the Orange were able to take control late in the game. With three minutes left, junior guard Chandrea Jones – who had a game-high 19 points – hit a three-pointer that put Syracuse up by 6. Shortly thereafter, freshman guard Erica Morrow scored on a lay-up and an ensuing foul shot.

The series seemed to be the beginning of the end for the Bulls.

“We kept fighting throughout the whole game, just trying to take over,” Sepulveda said. “They just came back. Near the end, they hit a three-pointer that really hurt us.”

Fernandez agreed that the series doomed the Bulls.

“They made plays down the stretch,” Fernandez said. “One that changed the game was when (Morrow) got that offensive rebound and three-point play. I thought that broke our backs.”

Fernandez also realizes that the Bulls have a tough road ahead of them if they are to have any hopes of playing in a postseason tournament.

“This league is the number one league in the country,” Fernandez said. “We’re at 0-3 – one of two teams that haven’t won (a game) … We’ve still got Connecticut at Connecticut. We’ve got Notre Dame at Notre Dame, (and still have) Rutgers, DePaul and Pittsburgh at home. Those five teams are in the top 25. Where are you going to get your wins from?”