As cliche as it may sound, the fourth-largest announced crowd (6,044) in USF women’s basketball history saw a tale of two halves Sunday afternoon at the Yuengling Center — coach Jose Fernandez even said as much.
Though a tale of déjà vu might be a more accurate way to describe USF’s 67-47 loss to No. 5 UConn in the Huskies’ final trip to Tampa before leaving the AAC to join the Big East next season.
With the loss, Fernandez and USF are now 0-30 against Geno Auriemma and his team in a series that dates back to 2002. So it’d be easy to assume he’s happy to see UConn on its way out.
But that’s not the case.
“Yes, very sad [to see them leave],” Fernandez said. “They brought great credibility to our conference. Our players enjoy playing them and I enjoyed coaching against them. So we are sad for them to leave.”
In fact, the series should resume in a few years.
“There’s nothing in writing, but in talks with them, we will open up — it will be three seasons from now, we’d go up there and they would return the year after,” Fernandez said. “So the series will continue, but not within the next two years because they have more league games going into the Big East so they’ve got to adjust their nonconference schedule.”
While looking to become the first team to defeat UConn in conference play since the AAC’s inception in the 2013-14 season, the Bulls outplayed the Huskies in practically every sense — outshooting, outrebounding and making more 3-pointers than UConn (21-3, 11-0) in the first 20 minutes.
The Bulls shot 12-of-31 from the field and 5-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half, leading by as much as eight early in the second quarter.
USF (15-10, 7-4) took a 29-25 lead into halftime — incidentally the same lead it took into the break March 4, 2019, the last time the two teams played each other at the Yuengling Center. The halftime deficit was also the first time UConn trailed in a conference game at the break since the aforementioned meeting last March and only the third time since the conference’s inception, with the other also coming against USF.
“That’s what I said when I got in the locker room at halftime,” said sophomore guard Elisa Pinzan, who led USF with 15 points and four assists, “‘Guys, this is what happened last year. We cannot let them go now in the third quarter, because that’s what they did last year, too.'”
Then the déjà vu from that game really hit, as, like last year’s game, the second half was all Huskies.
UConn went on a 9-1 run before the Bulls even scored their first field goal of the third quarter, a layup by junior center Shae Leverett. Another layup by sophomore guard Sydni Harvey tied the game back up, but that was the last time the two teams were even.
UConn sophomore forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa led all scorers in the second half, scoring 12 of her 20 points during the final two quarters.
The Huskies overall outscored USF 42-18 in the second half, including 21-6 in the fourth quarter — holding the Bulls to 24 percent shooting (6-of-25) and 12.5 percent (1-of-8) from 3-point range.
“I think we just stopped moving the ball,” Harvey said. “We just stopped doing what we were doing in the first half.”
There’s little solace the Bulls are taking from the loss, even despite hanging with UConn for as long as they did, according to Pinzan.
“We had to keep pushing and keep working, but we didn’t and that’s what bothers us right now,” Pinzan said. “But we have UCF Wednesday, so we have to keep the heads up and go get the win there.”