Losing to UConn is nothing new for USF women’s basketball.
Pitted in the same conference as the perennial No. 1 team in the nation, the Bulls have tried and tried again against the Huskies, but have come up short 21 consecutive times.
Dropping another game to No. 1 UConn in Hartford on Tuesday wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for No. 20 USF, but the way in which it happened certainly made some fans do a double take at the box score.
The Bulls’ 102-37 loss marks the worst in program history and a harsh reality check when it comes to the bigger picture of NCAA women’s basketball.
After becoming nationally ranked for the first time in school history in 2015, it seemed as though a setback was inevitable this season. USF (13-2) lost its program leaders in scoring and rebounding in Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins along with starting point guard Shalethia Stringfield.
Despite this, USF began one of its hottest starts ever under coach Jose Fernandez, as it took just a month before it climbed back into the national rankings.
Led by the superb shooting of sophomore forward Kitija Laksa (20.6 points per game) and the stellar guard play of junior Laia Flores (6.7 assists per game), Fernandez’s international recruits have helped buoy the Bulls through what should have been a rebuilding period.
Entering Tuesday night with only one loss this season, overcoming the top-ranked Huskies for the first time appeared to be within sight.
Merely one quarter into the game, it was apparent a USF upset wouldn’t be in the cards.
Trailing 30-6 after the game’s first five minutes, the blowout would only continue as the Bulls struggled all night with UConn’s defense. The Bulls were forced to create their own shots all night long, finishing with just three assists compared to the Huskies’ 31.
By halftime, UConn led 65-19 and cruised to its largest victory over a ranked opponent.
While the loss was only the second of the season for USF, it serves as the best measure of just how close (or far) the Bulls are from competing with the nation’s best.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that the 2016-17 Bulls have already outperformed expectations and are cementing themselves in the national discussion as each week with a spot in the top 25 passes.
But the senior leadership and program-changing players USF lost to graduation is nearly impossible to replace in a single season.
Though Tuesday night’s result makes it clear that the Bulls aren’t ready to compete with the best, the growing expectations that they should shows it’s only a matter of time.