Women win tough road game, end five-game losing streak

USF 75, Seton Hall 67

An injury-plagued South Florida women’s basketball team (11-7, 1-4) traveled to South Orange, N.J., on Saturday and got its first Big East victory of the season, a 75-67 win against Seton Hall (12-4, 2-2).

The Bulls’ win was the first home loss of the season for the Pirates and snapped a five-game losing streak for USF, keeping the Bulls ahead of last place Georgetown (10-7, 0-4) in the conference.

“I thought that this was a very good win,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said in a press release. “I told the kids that this is a win that they can take back and put in the back of their minds, because a game like this can help them. Life is more important than winning and losing basketball games. With what these kids have been through, losing five in a row, losing four conference games and having three ladies not traveling because they are injured.

“We played eight kids today, and to beat a team that has not lost at home all year – and were 12-3 coming in – this is a good win for us. Life is full of challenges and it’s how you deal with adversity and it’s what you do with those challenges and how you learn from that.”

With injuries seeming to be the theme of the game, it was fitting that a hampered player – junior guard Shantia Grace – led the Bulls with a game-high 27 points.

“Shantia is a kid who sprained her ankle a few minutes into (last) Tuesday’s game with Providence,” said Fernandez. “She was heavily taped. She flat-out had a phenomenal, gutsy performance.”

She was accurate from a distance as 18 of her 27 points came from three-pointers. She shot 6-of-9 from behind the three-point arc in a game where USF only had one three-point field goal in the first half.

Early in the game, South Florida fell behind 10-0, and it didn’t score until after three minutes into the game when sophomore forward Melissa Dalembert put two points on the board. The Bulls were down by as many as 12 points in the first half.

In a game that saw six lead changes, USF didn’t take one until a minute left in the first half when senior forward ChiChi Okpaleke scored a lay up.

The Bulls finished the first half with the lead 38-35 that came from a 12-1 run with junior guard Jazmine Sepulveda leading the charge with six points.

The second half started with the lead exchanging hands multiple times. Grace’s threes kept the Bulls in the game.

It wasn’t until midway through the half that USF held onto the lead for good, when Grace shot a jumper to go up 55-54. Following the bucket, Grace and Sepulveda made consecutive three-pointers, giving the Bulls a seven-point advantage.

The Pirates tried to close the gap several times, but timely three-point shooting kept them down – one by Grace and another by Sepulveda. USF ended the game with 8-of-16 three-point shooting.

Grace scored 11 of the Bulls’ last 22 points and Sepulveda contributed eight to the tally, as the guard tandem led the Bulls to victory. Sepulveda finished the game with 16 points and led the Bulls with seven rebounds and four assists.

The conference win gives USF some life in a charge to make the Big East tournament, which would be its third year in a row in the tournament.