Bulls fight and come back

Villanova 66. USF 77

The South Florida women’s basketball team (13-12, 3-9) overcame a 15-point deficit to defeat Villanova (15-11, 5-8) 77-66 Tuesday, keeping some hope in making not only the Big East Tournament, but the NIT as well. It was the largest comeback victory of the year for the Bulls.

USF coach Jose Fernandez said his team needed to score 70 to 80 points to beat the Wildcats. Villanova plays a slow-paced game, keeping it to a low score.

The Bulls succeeded by applying full-court pressure, pushing the ball up the court and defending the three-point shot, which led to dominating rebounding.

“I told the girls we needed to come out the gate and control tempo, make shots and pick up the pressure,” Fernandez said.

Villanova leads the Big East in three-point shooting and they disrupted the Bulls’ strategy by making a high percentage of their shots from a distance. The Wildcats hit seven of their first nine, jumping out to a 25-10 lead. They used handoffs, ball screens and flairs to get wide-open looks from behind the arc.

By shooting well, the Wildcats got back on defense quickly, squashing the Bulls ability to play a fast-paced game. Consequently, Fernandez called a timeout and made some changes in the defense.

“We switched on handoffs, and then, what we started to do was switch on those flairs and those screens,” Fernandez said. “And, I guess it affected, disrupted them a little in what they were trying to do.”

The tactic worked, since the Wildcats made four more threes in the rest of the game, two in the first half.

After the timeout, the Bulls went on a 20-5 run to tie the game 30-30. Junior guard Jazmine Sepulveda scored nine during the run and had 19 points overall. Junior guard Shantia Grace led all scorers with 21.

The three-point defense continued into the second half, as Villanova shot 2-of-14 and scored 26 points. The Bulls tallied 40.

Even though the Bulls executed their defense well, they needed rebounds to get up the court quickly. Porche Grant nabbed 15, ChiChi Okpaleke 11. Okpaleke got a double-double by adding 19 points.

“I think maybe my quickness probably gave me an advantage (in rebounding),” Okpaleke said. “They mostly just stand out on the perimeter and they just shoot. I would drive to get there and they weren’t ready for that.”

The Bulls edged the Wildcats in offensive rebounding 20-3. They led to 12 second-chance points. Villanova scored two.

Grant said Fernandez always tells her to “attack the glass on defense.” She hit the offensive boards just as hard, grabbing seven.

Thanks to the offensive rebounding, the Bulls got some extra shots and ended the game with 22 more shot attempts than Villanova.

Fernandez said the Villanova win brings the Bulls to “possibly the biggest game of the year” – Georgetown (13-11, 3-8), 12th in the Big East.

“It’s a big win,” Fernandez said. “Now we have to go on the road to Georgetown. That will get us to four wins (in the Big East), that could possibly get us to Hartford.”

The top 12 teams in the conference make the Big East Tournament. A win against Georgetown will get the Bulls to 13th place.

Fernandez said if the team gets to 15 wins – four games remain in the season – the Bulls might not only make the Big East Tournament but “could possibly get an NIT bid.”