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Eagles too much to handle

Marquette 79, USF 66

The South Florida women’s basketball team (11-8, 1-5) played host to Marquette (11-8, 3-3) Saturday night in a 79-66 game that seemed evenly matched until the second half, in which the Bulls were outscored by 13 points.

The score was tied 34-34 at the end of the first half, but the Eagles went on an 11-0 run during a two-minute span early in the second half that the Bulls could not overcome.

“I think we just stopped competing,” said USF junior guard Shantia Grace. “(At the) end of the first half, it was even. We came out, they went on a run, and we put our heads down instead of us playing harder.”

The charge was led by the Eagles’ leading scorer, Krystal Ellis – a junior guard – who scored seven of the team’s 11 points during the run. Her stellar play continued throughout the half as she scored 23 second-half points, giving her 30 for the game.

“I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “We did a good job of finding (Ellis). We did a good job hedging on ball screens, but in the second half, she just got into a flow. She really hurt us on dribble penetration and getting to the rim.”

USF junior guard Jazmine Sepulveda was defending Ellis, but was incapable of slowing her down. With less than nine minutes left in the game, senior forward ChiChi Okpaleke switched with Sepulveda to defend Ellis.

According to Fernandez, the switch was made to put someone taller on Ellis in an attempt to limit her production.

Ellis scored five points after the switch, which was too little, too late.

Ellis’ ability to get inside helped Marquette post a 38-16 advantage in the paint, but it wasn’t just her ability to score inside that contributed to the 22-point difference: a lack of converting easy buckets was also a culprit.

“We got 25 offensive rebounds ourselves,” Fernandez said. “We got 17 of them in the second half, but how many wide-open layups did we miss? You miss that many layups, you’re going to lose the points in the paint battle.”

According to Fernandez, Grace’s playing just under eight minutes in the half didn’t help the Bulls’ inability to score. She sat due to foul trouble. The junior fouled out with less than seven minutes left in the game.

“It affected (us) a lot because she is our leading scorer,” said Sepulveda.

Grace scored two points in the second half – 13 total in the game – and the Bulls shot 25 percent from the field.

Coming into the game, the Bulls were 14th in the Big East and had an opportunity to move into 11th place with a win. The Bulls, who had a better overall record than the Eagles, were 1-12 all-time against them.

According to Fernandez, the lopsided record against Marquette did not have an effect on the team. Every year is different with a different team.

“We don’t talk about that kind of stuff,” he said.

Now, the Bulls are still 14th in the conference, and are trying to make their third Big East tournament in a row. Big East tournaments feature only the conference’s top 12 teams.

Grace said that for the team to make the tournament, “We have to tighten up our overall game. We have to show up every night and keep our heads up and play hard.”

The loss could be difficult to overcome.

“It doesn’t help any now that we have to go on the road and play the No. 1 team,” Fernandez said.

The Bulls travel to Storrs, Conn. on Wednesday to play the No. 1 Connecticut Huskies (18-0, 5-0).