USF can’t shake losing trend

The Bulls had career-high nights from two players, but it still wasn’t enough to stop their skid.

Freshman guard KaNeisha Saunders had a career-high 23 points, and junior guard Leondra Doomes-Stephens scored a career-high 22, but USF couldn’t overcome a flurry of first-half turnovers and lost 72-62 to Providence (16-11, 7-7) at the Sun Dome on Tuesday night.

The Bulls have lost three straight and five of their last six games.

“We got off to a slow start and weren’t able to come back from it,” said Doomes-Stephens, who added nine boards. “We played like we were tired in the first half, and when we started to make a run at the end of the game, it was too late.”

USF (14-13, 5-9) turned the ball over 16 times in the opening half and were down 31-22 at the break. Center Jessica Lawson and forward Melissa Dalembert each had three fouls by the end of the half, and guard Allyson Speed injured her chest three minutes into the game.

“When you turn the ball over that many times in the first half, it is difficult to overcome,” said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez. “We had key players get into foul trouble.”

The Friars took their largest lead at 48-31 with 13:55 remaining, but the Bulls, led by Doomes-Stephens and Saunders, got within eight with two minutes to play.

USF has had difficulty winning without its second and third leading scorers, Janae Stokes and Sequoyah Griffin, who were suspended from the team indefinitely on Feb. 13 for violating team rules.

The Bulls are 1-3 during that time. They are also without starting point guard Jasmine Wynne, who tore her ACL on Jan. 20 and is out for the season.

“One good thing about playing so shorthanded is the experience our newcomers are getting,” Fernandez said. “These young kids are getting valuable minutes in Big East play, which will greatly help this program in the future.”

The Friars, whose only two losses since the beginning of the month were to No. 7 West Virginia and No. 1 Connecticut, were led by senior Chelsea Marandola’s 18 second-half points. Providence hit 89 percent of its free throws, including 16-of-17 in the second half.

“I give USF a lot of credit,” said Providence coach Phil Seymore. “They are severely undermanned right now but they fought hard until the buzzer. We could have pulled away, but (USF) kept the game close. It was crucial that we made our free throws down the stretch or it would have been a different outcome.”