Bulls falter in second half, lose to No. 7 Rutgers

The USF women’s basketball team hung tough for its first half againstNo. 7 Rutgers on Saturday night but couldn’t keep pace in the second, falling 72-66 in front of a crowd of 1,022 at the Campus Recreation Center.

With the momentum from knocking off No. 21 DePaul in their last game, USF openedthe game on an 11-3 run, courtesy of strong shooting from outside the arc. Tiffany Conner opened the gamewith a 3-pointer and Inga Orekhova added a pair to give USF a big lead.

Rutgers didn’t cave in, though, and began to assert its size, out-rebounding the Bulls 18-9 in the first half. TheScarlet Knights recovered from the early deficit and brought a 29-27 lead into the breakwith a buzzer-beating layup.

While it was theBulls (11-9, 3-3) who came out strong to start the night, it was Rutgers (16-3, 5-1) who came out of the locker room in the second half clicking on allcylinders, jumping from52 percent shooting in thefirst half to 65.2 percent inthe second.

Rutgers forward April Sykes dominated the interior,scoring a game-high 23 pointsand collecting 10 rebounds Khadijah Rushdan andMonique Oliver added 16 and 14 points, respectively.

With USF shooters starting the second period 1-of-6, The Scarlet Knights quickly builta double-digit lead thatsurvived most of the half.

The Bulls fought on, with guard Jasmine Wynne scoringall 12 of her points in thesecond half as the Bulls cut the Rutgers lead into single digits. Orekhova knocked downanother pair of 3-pointers and finished with a team high15 points, having played all40 minutes.

“I think we have to play hard the whole game, make our shots, our free throwsand get rebounds, so that it doesn’t come down to the end of the game,” Orekhova said.

Conner and Kaneisha Saunders each added 11 points, but it wasn’t enough for the Bulls to close the gap and beat a second consecutive ranked opponent.

“I told our kids at theend of the year, ‘There’s not an asterisk next to yourrecord saying, “‘They playedGeorgetown tough, they played Louisville tough, they should have beat theNo. 7 team in the country,”‘”coach Jose Fernandez said. “It comes down to wins andlosses. We did a good jobof closing out againstDePaul the other night.We got to start closingout against some of theseTop 25 games.”

The Bulls will continuetheir home stand againstSeton Hall on Wednesdaynight in a televised game.USF beat the Pirates by19 points in New Jerseyon Jan. 14.