Bulls feeling grind of Big East play

Playing in the Big East has its challenges. USF is feeling that right now.

The Bulls, who have played a stretch of three consecutive ranked teams in a span of nine days — which all ended in losses — face another stiff task hosting Syracuse (14-1, 1-1) on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Sun Dome.

The Bulls (9-7, 0-3) are still winless in the conference, but the team said it found positives in a hard-fought loss at No. 3 Notre Dame, where USF trailed by just three points with eight minutes remaining.

“The Big East definitely keeps you humbled,” said assistant coach Jeff Osterman.

When asked about the hardships of bouncing back in a tough league, junior forward Sequoyah Griffin, one of nine newcomers on the team, said: “We have to leave that game behind us, fix some little things such as limiting turnovers and making free throws.”

Fixing the little things can make the difference in the grind of Big East play, Griffin said. The Bulls rank 14th in turnover margin and 13th in free-throw shooting in the conference.

Osterman said USF will show different styles of defense to combat Syracuse’s athleticism. The Orange, whose only loss came by two points in overtime against Georgetown on Jan. 2, have 6-foot-4 freshman Kayla Alexander to pose problems. She’s averaging 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

“We plan on playing a lot of zone defense as well as man-to-man depending on how well they are shooting the ball,” Osterman said. “In Syracuse’s loss this year, it didn’t shoot the ball well and committed a number of turnovers.”

Osterman said playing a challenging schedule  has reaped its benefits for a young team.

“Connecticut and Notre Dame are two of the toughest places in the country to play,” he said. “I thought our team responded very well even though we didn’t come away with any wins. The girls experienced playing against some of the best teams in women’s basketball.”