South Florida struggles with consistency in 56-55 win against UNF

Bulls freshman guard Vittoria Blasigh played in every minute of Sunday’s win against the Ospreys. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Coach Jose Fernandez said it’s been a “very long time” since USF women’s basketball struggled to the degree it has early in the season. 

The Bulls (4-1) nearly squandered a double-digit second-half lead in their 56-55 win against the Ospreys (1-4) on Sunday afternoon at the Yuengling Center. 

Despite winning four out of its first five games, there have been glaring inconsistencies throughout. Fernandez said he hasn’t seen ‘accountability’ amongst the- Bulls’ players.

“Until that locker room starts to develop, get some leadership and become more player-led, this is what’s gonna happen,” he said. “We didn’t deserve to win today.”

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This lack of a ‘player-led’ culture was highlighted during the second half. 

USF entered the third quarter with a 44-29 lead but allowed the Ospreys to storm back with a 12-3 scoring run. 

Fernandez said the most concerning aspect of that four-minute, 33-second stretch was the Bulls’ defense. The Ospreys made four of five three-pointers to outscore the Bulls 15-7 in the quarter.

“We had two guys guarding one guy with the ball in transition,“ he said. “Come on man Seriously? But it was that stretch. It was bad.”

UNF’s hot streak carried over to the fourth. It would score five unanswered points to take a 50-49 advantage with just over eight minutes left.

It was the first time the Ospreys held a lead since the first quarter. They led 11-10 with just over five minutes in the period.

The game came down to the final possession. USF went scoreless in the final three minutes and 17 seconds.

Senior point guard Aerial Wilson attempted a jump shot as the shot clock expired with five seconds left in the game. 

Freshman guard Vittoria Blasigh corralled an offensive rebound to secure the win. The Bulls outrebounded The Ospreys 43 to 27. 

Sophomore center Emma Johannson gave the Bulls their first basket of the period and the lead, with 4:33 remaining. It was the first of three straight baskets that gave the Bulls a six-point advantage. 

Johansson was a freshman when the Bulls went 27-7 in the 2022-23 season.

She said she isn’t surprised by the team’s overall performance because of this season’s roster turnover. 

“I just feel like we haven’t really figured out who’s going to step up,” Johansson, who totaled six points, said. “I know a lot of people need to step up, including myself. But we just need to work harder.”

Two of the Bulls’ top scorers last season – guard Elena Tsineke and forward Dulcy Fankam-Mendjiadeu – graduated. 

Senior guard Sammie Puisis is the Bulls’ top-returning scorer but is currently out for the foreseeable future due to injury.  

Related: Sammie Puisis’ injury status unclear after USF wins against Texas Arlington

Blasigh stepped up for the Bulls during the first quarter. She found her rhythm early as The Bulls and Ospreys traded baskets throughout the first. She scored six of USF’s first 10 points.  

The freshman guard scored 23 of her career-high 27 points in the first half, making seven of her 12 three-pointers. Blasigh played every minute of Sunday’s game. 

Blasigh said she was “thankful” that her team put her in a position to capitalize on her scoring opportunities. She also noticed the Bulls’ inconsistent performance.

“There are moments where we played really good but moments where we played really bad and missed a lot of layups that we shouldn’t,” Blasigh said. “But I’m pretty sure we are going to come back we’re strong and keep working.”

Fernandez said Blasigh had a ‘special night.’ But the rest of the team’s lack of production stood out to him when he checked the box score after the game.

The other Bulls combined for 19 points on six of 18 field goals in the first half. 

Fernandez said this was “unacceptable” with the veterans on the roster.

“We got some fifth-year guys and a couple of transfers that came in. They got a lot of experience. Well, it’s not translating over,” Fernandez said. “We got some guys that have been in this program that now they got to play a bigger role. And it’s not working out.”

USF will participate in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands this upcoming week. It will face teams such as High Point, Arizona State and Texas from Thursday to Saturday.

The Bulls upset the then-ranked No. 22 Longhorns (4-0) 70-65 last season on Dec. 2.

USF survived on Sunday but it’ll need to work out its consistency issues before its next slate of games. 

“I’m trying to find answers and I’ll continue to try and find answers but this isn’t us, man,” Fernandez said. “I gotta find a way to fix it.”

Women’s basketball will travel to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands to face High Point in the Paradise Jam on Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 and BullsUnlimited Radio.