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Turnovers and fouls sink Bulls in War on I-4

Shae Leverett tied with Elena Tsineke for a team-high 10 points in the Bulls’ loss to UCF on Wednesday. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

ORLANDO — Here’s the good news. 

USF held UCF to 15-of-56 from the field Wednesday night at Addition Financial Arena.

The bad news is the Bulls weren’t much better in their 56-48 loss to the Knights in the final installment of the War on I-4’s on the hardwood in 2020.

The Bulls turned the ball over 21 times and committed 28 fouls. While USF didn’t get critically burned by the turnovers (UCF only scored seven points off them), the fouls hurt. Forty-one percent of UCF’s points (23) came at the free-throw line.

“I thought it was a hard-fought game for both groups,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “We fouled too much and we turned the ball over too many times, especially in that first quarter — we had eight turnovers.”

USF was held to a season low in made 3-pointers (2) and 3-point percentage (11 percent) and tied for a season low in made field goals (17).

“We got good shots — we just can’t shoot that poorly,” Fernandez said. “You go 2-of-18 against a 3-2 zone? It’s not good — especially us, the 3-point shot’s a big part of what we do.

“I think we got some good looks … But again, when you miss 35 shots — you got 13 of those (43 total) rebounds on the 35 shots, but I don’t think we got enough to show for it off of second-third opportunities.”

Despite all the woes, the Bulls were in the game until the very end — until UCF senior Kay Kay Wright took over. Wright, UCF’s leading scorer, had been held to 10 points through three quarters — she scored 14 in the fourth alone.

“I thought for the most part early on in the first half, we did a good job on Kay Kay,” Fernandez said. “But that fourth quarter, she took over. She willed her team to win when they needed big shots down the stretch and she knocked them down.”

In hindsight, it was apparent early on USF was in for trouble. Four of the Bulls’ first five possessions ended in turnovers.

However, UCF was never able to pull away. Despite leading by as many as 12 with just over five minutes to play in the half, a 9-2 USF run, cut the deficit to five at the half.

After the break, a 5-0 run by junior Shae Leverett tied the game at 23 and it looked like the Bulls, for all their faults in the first half — 13 turnovers and 11 fouls — might turn things around.

“We just knew we had to play better. That wasn’t our game,” said Leverett, who tied with freshman Elena Tsineke for a team-high 10 points. “We weren’t playing up to our ability.

“Credit UCF, they did a good job pressuring us, but we’ve just got to learn to settle down, calm our nerves and really get into the game.”

With the win, the Knights move into a tie with Cincinnati for second place in the AAC, while USF moves into a tie for third with Temple. 

USF has also now lost five of its last eight against UCF, but Fernandez isn’t concerned about that.

“Credit to them — they’ve got a good basketball team,” he said. “[UCF coach] Katie [Abrahamsson-Henderson], she’s done a magnificent job over here.

“And you know what? The’ve won the last four. Hopefully we play them in the conference tournament and we get a chance to win the next one. I don’t worry about that nonsense.”