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USF third in conference with win over Bearcats


After senior center Akila McDonald made her third straight layup to help the Bulls get a five-point advantage over the Cincinnati Bearcats to open the second half Tuesday, she went into the huddle during a timeout smiling.

“Coach just told us (during halftime) that we need to shoot better from the field,“ McDonald said. “We knew that we just needed to come out and make shots, and when you’re winning, you’re
having fun.”

It was the second half adjustments that opened up opportunities near the basket for field goals and helped USF earn a 57-48 victory over Cincinnati putting the Bulls at third in the American Athletic Conference.

“We isolated Courtney Williams … we got the ball to Jenkins in the post area, we isolated McDonald and she finished around the basket,” USF coach Jose
Fernandez said.

Williams finished the first half leading the Bulls with 10 points — a half that Fernandez said no one would want to watch as the teams left the court for halftime tied at 22.

It wasn’t until the 13th minute of the first half that USF reached double-digits; the Bearcats weren’t much better, scoring double figures just two minutes earlier.

Excitement on the floor was hard for either team to find, especially for a USF team that was shooting 9-for-31 from the field in front of a crowd that amounted to roughly 10 percent of the Sun Dome’s capacity.

“At halftime we really talked as a team even before coach came in,” McDonald said. “We told ourselves we needed to buckle down defensively because we knew if they couldn’t score, we would win.”

The Bulls (10-8, 1-6) used
isolation in the second half after the Bearcat’s man-to-man defense fought through screens in the first, helping USF to 60 percent from the field to close out the game.

With players having an open lane to the basket, the Bulls began to attack at will on the glass with McDonald scoring near the basket. Though the 6-foot-4 center came down with just five defensive boards, Fernandez said she was glad that she could stay on the floor for 31 minutes with no fouls.

“No, that isn’t a typo,” Fernandez said referring to the postgame stat sheet. “I think that’s a career best.”

McDonald wasn’t the only one enjoying the groove that the Bulls found in the second half. Williams’ 21-point effort made her fifth 20-point performance of the season.

Though the Bulls put their first half woes behind them coming out of the locker room, Fernandez has been tweaking with rotation all season due to injuries, such as freshman guard Trimaine McCullough who is out for the year with an ACL/MCL injury.

McCullough was one of three point guards to have started for the Bulls this season along with redshirt freshman Laura Marcos Canedo and redshirt sophomore Shalethia Stringfield, who both played in the win over Cincinnati.

“If I had seven (point guards) I probably would have started seven,” Fernandez said. “To their credit, they’re getting better. With the type of team we have, we have so many weapons that all they have to do is take care of the ball and kick it to the shooter or post player. They’re continuing to improve. That’s what you need.”

As the Bulls’ point guards continue to improve, McDonald said the team never lacked confidence during a stretch of six losses over the course of a month.

The Bulls now have five wins in their last six games. Both Fernandez and McDonald point to additional work put in over winter break as the key reason to the team’s success.

“Sometimes we weren’t as efficient at closing out games like we are now,” McDonald said. “But we worked with coach over the break, we worked with ourselves, and it’s built more confidence.”

The Bulls will take to the road for a matchup with the No. 1, undefeated Connecticut Huskies on Sunday for a noon tip-off.