No. 22 USF (21-5, 10-2), donned in all-pink jerseys for its annual Play4Kay game, it held off SMU (10-16, 4-9) 64-54 for its sixth consecutive victory Wednesday night in front of 2,004 at the Sun Dome.
Despite success throughout its upset of Ohio State on Sunday, the Bulls struggled early on against the Mustangs.
“We played probably one of our best games all year and then we come back and play like that,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “I thought we turned the corner against East Carolina (and) led into playing well against Ohio State. Now we revert back to this.”
The Bulls shot 21 percent in the first half and entered halftime with just 22 points. Both of these statistics were on track to set season-low marks for USF.
“We shot the ball atrocious in the first 20 minutes,” Fernandez said. “It was just awful.”
At halftime, the Bulls were able to make necessary adjustments to pull out the win. In the first minute-and-a-half of the second half, a layup by Maria Jespersen followed by back-to-back three-point shots by Laura Ferreira and Kitija Laksa extended the Bulls lead to 15.
“We’ve had games like this before when we don’t hit shots,” Jespersen said. “We know we’re good shooters, we know the shots will fall, but in those droughts where they’re not going to fall, you have to do other things. You have to play better defense, you have to drive it to the basket.”
Jespersen led the Bulls with 28 points. She also added 10 rebounds and four assists. According to Fernandez, her lack of turnovers is what made her performance great.
“She (Jespersen) was assertive when she shot the ball from three when she was open,” Fernandez said. “Her most impressive stat line was that she didn’t turn the ball over and that’s one thing that we’ve talked about, having more value for the basketball and taking more care of it.”
The Bulls were able to find a rhythm in the second half when they shot 48 percent and 64 percent from three-point range.
Even though the Bulls won, Fernandez expects more from the team moving forward.
“Our guys haven’t understood yet, and it’s February, that no one is going to lay down against us,” Fernandez said. “That’s been the issue with our guys. All year long. We get up eight or 10, we don’t hold leads. I thought we had moved past that, but apparently not.”