Bearcats beat up Bulls

USF 67, Cincinnati 74

Less than a month remains in the regular season of women’s college basketball, diminishing South Florida’s chance to gain ground in a tough Big East Conference.

The USF women’s basketball team (12-11, 2-8) blew a chance to move up two spots in the conference standings Saturday, when they lost on the road to last-place Cincinnati (11-12, 2-9) 74-67. The Big East tournament, which takes place in Hartford, Conn., allows the top 12 teams in the conference to compete. Following their loss, the Bulls fell to 14th while Cincinnati moved up to 15th.

“This is a big loss because it hurts us going to Hartford,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.

The loss comes after an uplifting upset against No. 25 DePaul (16-7, 5-5). USF junior guards Shantia Grace and Jazmine Sepulveda both scored career highs – Grace with 35, Sepulveda with 22.

“We’ve been very inconsistent all year long,” Fernandez said. “We are going to go as Jazmine Sepulveda and Shantia Grace go.”

The guard duo combined for 41 points against Cincinnati – Grace with 27, Sepulveda with 14. However, Cincinnati guards Kahla Roudebush and Natasha Graboski both scored career highs – 25 and 17 points, respectively – to lead the Bearcats to victory. They shot 50 percent from the field for a combined 15-of-30, grabbing nine rebounds each.

“Kahla is the best player we have in being able to create offense on her own,” Cincinnati associate coach Todd Schaeffer said. “Kahla can put the ball on the floor and get her own shot. When she plays well offensively, we play well offensively.”

Except for the offense, the teams’ performances, including 38-38 on the rebounds, were almost even statistically.

The Bearcats wore pink uniforms on Think Pink Day to raise awareness for the fight against cancer. They started the game making their first five shots while the Bulls made none. Nearly five minutes passed before USF senior guard ChiChi Okpaleke made the team’s first field goal, making the score 13-2.

The Bearcats held a sizable lead throughout the first half that never exceeded 13 points. Seven Bulls’ three-pointers – four by Sepulveda – kept the Bulls in the game.

The Bulls appeared stagnant until Okpaleke capped a Bulls’ 9-4 rally to close the half with a steal for a fast-break layup. She followed the bucket with a last-second shot block, keeping the score 40-33.

“We’re going to try to change our defense,” Cincinnati coach J. Kelley Hall said at halftime. “They’ve been making too many threes. We’re going to try to extend the matchup just a little bit more.”

The Bulls came into the second half with a quick 6-0 run, including a three-pointer from Grace, to close the Bearcats’ lead to one point. It was the last three the Bulls made – and the closest USF got to Cincinnati.

“Every time we made a run we just couldn’t get past that 1-, 2-, 3-point number,” Fernandez said. “You know, we had three or four possessions where we really could have taken advantage of it. But they did everything right.”

The Bearcats made 18-of-19 free throws and 8-of-19 three-pointers.

Six games remain on the Bulls’ schedule and they sit six games under .500 in the conference. Fernandez said a .500 win-percentage in the Big East Conference usually qualifies a team for the tournament.