TAMPA - A cold streak in the second half kept the Bulls from
sealing up their signature win of the season Wednesday night.
USF took a nine-point lead with 12:09 to play but couldn’t
finish the job in a 78-75 loss to No. 12 Louisville before a crowd of 1,227 at
the Sun Dome.
Andrell Smith led four Bulls in double figures with 18
points while posting a career-high 11 assists but USF was hampered by 22
turnovers. Louisville (18-4, 6-2) scored 28 points off takeaways and got a
career-high 38 points from Shoni Schimmel, who went 8-for-14 from long range.
“I thought the game was going to come down to who is going
to value the ball and who is going to make the most of possessions. We lost
that turnover battle,” USF head coach Jose Fernandez said.
Fernandez also pointed to Louisville’s 20-13 edge in second
chance points as a difference maker in another close loss to a ranked team. The
Bulls (14-5, 3-4) also had No. 2 Notre Dame on the ropes but couldn’t deliver
the knockout punch in a 75-71 overtime defeat Jan. 8 at the Sun Dome.
“I was proud of our kids. We fought until the end and still
had an opportunity to win the basketball game,” Fernandez said.
A layup by Andrea Smith gave USF a 66-62 lead with 7:15
remaining but the Bulls didn’t get another field goal until an Andrell Smith
layup with 31 seconds cut their deficit to 74-70. Andrell Smith’s 3-pointer off
the glass cut Louisville’s lead to one with 21 seconds to play and an Akila
McDonald jumper got the Bulls back within one with seven seconds remaining.
Louisville’s Antonita Slaughter made two free throws with
four seconds left and Andrell Smith’s three-point try before the buzzer missed
as USF’s winning streak was snapped at two.
“That was definitely a tough, heartbreaking loss,” Fernandez
Andrea Smith finished with 17 points, Inga Orekhova scored
11 of her 15 points in the first half and freshman guard Courtney Williams had
another solid game with 11 points.
Orekhova started out 4-for-5 from the field with three
3-pointers to help the Bulls jump out to an 18-12 lead. Orekhova, Andrell Smith
and Williams each had 11 points at the break after Williams’ buzzer-beating
3-pointer cut USF’s deficit to 42-41.
Louisville was able to start off with a lead thanks in large
part to Schimmel, who had 20 points and four 3-pointers in the opening period.
Schimmel, a junior, eclipsed the 1,000-point mark earlier this season and ended
up topping her previous single-game high of 33 points on Wednesday night.
USF jumped out to its largest lead of the game after the
break when an Andrea Smith bank shot put the Bulls ahead, 60-51, but Louisville’s
hottest scorer heated back up. Eight quick points from Schimmel, including two
more 3-pointers, cut the Cardinals’ deficit to 62-59 before Fernandez called a
timeout with about nine minutes remaining. Schimmel matched her career high
with her seventh 3-pointer that tied things up at 62.
The game was tied at 66 when Schimmel set a new career high at
the right time for Louisville. The guard’s eighth 3-pointer put the Cardinals
ahead and Slaughter delivered another with 2:16 to play before USF got
within one twice the rest of the way.
“We have good teams coming in and we’re right there. We just
can’t close it out but tomorrow we’re going to regroup, focus and we’ll be able
to close these games out,” Andrea Smith said.
USF hits the road for its next two games starting 1 p.m.
Sunday at Pittsburgh. The Bulls play at Providence on Saturday, Feb. 9 before
returning to the Sun Dome to host St. John’s on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.