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Bulls break losing streak with 68-64 win over Pirates

In a consistently close home game against the Pirates, USF broke a seven-game losing streak and walked away with its first Big East win of the season.

Seton Hall fought until the last moments of Tuesday night’s game at the Sun Dome, but the USF women’s basketball team was able to seal the deal and beat the Pirates 68-64.

“It took us a long time to get (a win) in 2011,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “It’s tough ‘cause losing takes a toll on you and we haven’t had a seven-game losing streak in seven, eight years.”

The Bulls (10-11, 1-6) have had a habit this season of letting sizable leads slip away late in the game. They nearly fell into that trap again against the Pirates.

“We did everything there at the end of the game to give Seton Hall an opportunity to get back into the game,” Fernandez said. “That’s been our M.O. this season – nine of our 11 losses we’ve led in the second half.”

Up by 14 late in the second, USF allowed Seton Hall (7-13, 0-7) to go on a 7-0 run for a little over a minute, leaving the Bulls’ lead slashed in half with 5:11 remaining.

The Pirates cut USF’s lead to five points four times in the closing minutes, but were never able get any closer.

Seton Hall’s second-half performance was a marked improvement from their effort in the first half, which the Bulls dominated.

After trading baskets early on, USF took the lead with 15:58 remaining in the first half after a layup from freshman center Akila McDonald and never relinquished it. They pulled away to lead by as much as 13 in the first half, due in large part to the playing of junior guard Andrea Smith.

Smith led the team in the first half with 16 points and scored the team’s only 3-pointer. She shot 53.8 percent from the floor to help the Bulls go into the locker room with a 12-point halftime lead at 36-24.

Fernandez also praised the playing of Sasha Bernard who, with 10 points, was third on the team in scoring and second on the team with rebounds, reeling in seven.

“Sasha Bernard was the difference,” Fernandez said.

The Bulls sealed the win without the help of one of their frequent starters. Leondra Doomes-Stephens, who has started in 16 of 21 games this season, was out due to illness. Fernandez is unsure of her status for USF’s next game.

The Bulls will have three days to prepare for their trip to Syracuse, which is ranked 10th in the Big East. Tip-off is Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.