Effort goes long way for youthful Bulls

USF finally accomplished something it hadn’t during a grueling stretch of conference games: a big win.

In its fourth consecutive game against a ranked opponent, USF (10-7, 1-3) upset No. 25 Syracuse (15-2. 2-2) on Saturday with a 73-64 win at the Sun Dome that senior center Jessica Lawson said could serve as a turning point for a young, struggling squad.

“We were a little down after losing three straight games,” said Lawson, who had a double-double against the Orange. “So winning (Saturday) is a great feeling. We still have a lot to work on, but we can definitely build on this victory.”

The Bulls suffered crushing losses to top-ranked Connecticut, Georgetown and Notre Dame — an overwhelming feat for a team that has nine newcomers, said coach Jose Fernandez.

“We have a lot of kids playing a ton of minutes who haven’t had hardly any experience competing at this level,” he said. “But they are competing and fighting hard, which is all I can ask of them. We don’t have the talent that most teams in the Big East have so we need to make up for that with effort. (Saturday) we put two good halves together and didn’t take any possessions off and were able to come away with a win.”

USF shot 45 percent from the field and went 10-of-23 from 3-point range. Lawson had 16 points and 11 rebounds and senior guard Janae Stokes had 20 points and seven boards. 

Stokes, who entered averaging eight points per game in Big East play, said the team is starting to get in a groove.

“We are starting to recognize which players should shoot, drive the lane and pass the ball,” Stokes said. “We are getting the ball where it needs to be, and a lot of that has to do with our chemistry on the court.”

Of USF’s 12 remaining games, only two are against teams currently ranked in the top 25. The Bulls face Pittsburgh (11-6, 0-4) at the Sun Dome on Wednesday night at 7.