No. 23 USF went into the fourth quarter tied with No. 2 UConn in the Battle 4 Atlantis on Sunday afternoon, but the inability to contain the duo of freshman Azzi Fudd and sophomore Paige Bueckers made the difference for the Bulls in the 60-53 loss.
Bueckers and Fudd accounted for 39 of UConn’s 60 points, shooting a combined 53.8% from the field and 47.4% from three-point range. Fudd only missed three of her nine shots from beyond the arc.
“Fudd was the national player of the year for a reason, she’s pretty good,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “She’s going to get better when she’s able to create off the bounce and take you off the bounce, but you’ve got to be able to step up and knock those shots down, and she did.
“I thought at times we were right there and she made [some shots] over us.”
The Bulls have now played UConn 33 times in program history and have yet to pull off a victory over the Huskies, but Sunday’s contest was as good a chance as they’ve ever had.
USF was down eight points with 5:31 left to play in the third quarter before a furious 11-3 run knotted the game at 45 heading into the final period of play. Junior point guard Elisa Pinzan said the team was trying not to get too ahead of itself in the last 10 minutes.
“I think you’ve just got to take it one step at a time, one action at a time,” Pinzan said. “Get a stop and then score on offense … You’ve just got to really think one action at a time because as soon as you start thinking [only] about offense and stop thinking about defense, a special team like UConn [and] top 10 teams are going to hurt you.
“[We tried to] just stick with our plan.”
Part of that game plan was controlling the glass, a part of the game that hurt the Bulls in a previous loss to No. 16 Tennessee on Nov. 15. USF won the rebounding battle against the Huskies 34-29 and pulled in 15 offensive rebounds compared to just six from UConn.
Seniors Bethy Mununga and Shae Leverett led all players with eight boards apiece. Mununga also added 15 points.
“[Mununga] did a great job on the glass and she did a good job finishing around the basket,” Fernandez said. “I thought we found here, 17 of 22 of our field goals were assisted, that means we did a good job sharing the basketball, that’s who we are.
“I’m really glad for Bethy, she was struggling a bit the first 2-3 games of the year, and I think she’s played really, really well here in the Bahamas.”
Although USF had some success offensively, like the 11-3 run to end the third quarter, it was often a feast or famine for the Bulls’ offense. It took 3:07 for the Bulls to score their first bucket, and three other scoring droughts of over four minutes cost USF some points in what proved to be a single-digit difference in the final score.
“I think UConn does that to a lot of people,” Fernandez said. “I’ve seen a lot of teams have scoring droughts against them because they’re long, they’re effective [and] they’re athletic in the perimeter. I thought we didn’t come down and crank and take the first bad shot because it’s like a live ball turnover.
“We took some shots that made them defend for about 20-22 seconds, and we missed shots that we normally make, but I think you’ve got to take into consideration their length and the things that they do defensively as well.”
The Bulls will have to quickly get over the loss because they have yet another important game coming up against No. 9 Oregon on Monday.
“Overall, [we’ve got to have] short-term memory [and] we’ve got to respond and get ready to play tomorrow, whoever we’re going to play,” Fernandez said. “I’m proud, I thought we defended, we made multiple efforts in a lot of plays, and this was your typical, probably second, third weekend NCAA tournament game.”
The Bulls will face the Ducks on Monday at 2:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on Bulls Unlimited.