TAMPA (Dec. 28, 2013) – The Bulls bounced back in a big way after the break but couldn’t catch up with Rutgers in a 66-53 loss in the programs’ American Athletic Conference season opener Saturday night at the Sun Dome.
USF (5-7, 0-1) trailed by as many as 25 points in the first half while shooting 20 percent and cut its deficit to 14 twice after the break, but Rutgers had an answer each time in its sixth consecutive victory. Freshman Ariadna Pujol led USF with 17 points and sophomore guard Courtney Williams posted her ninth double-digit scoring game of the season with 10 points.
“We did a much better job taking care of the ball and took it 4 minutes at a time,” said head coach Jose Fernandez of USF, which shot 44 percent in the second half. “We got ourselves back in when it’s 14 and we couldn’t get it back to single digits. I thought Rutgers did a great job slamming the door in doing that.”
Betnijah Laney posted 18 points and 11 rebounds and Tyler Scaife added 14 points for the Scarlet Knights (10-2, 1-0). Laney and Scaife were both in double figures by the half with Rutgers ahead, 39-19, after the Bulls started 6-for-29 from the field and committed 11 turnovers.
Despite the slow finish to the first half, USF started fast, opening on a 7-3 run before Laney gave the Scarlet Knights the lead for good with a 3-pointer nearly 5 minutes in. Akila McDonald, who finished with eight points and five rebounds, cut USF’s deficit to 12-10 with a layup but Rutgers seized control with a 16-2 run.
“I thought the first 8 minutes were good for us,” Fernandez said. “I thought we defended and we were comfortable running our offense, but we dug ourselves such a huge hole.”
USF also got a strong performance from senior Inga Orekhova, who registered eight rebounds and five assists after taking over at point guard in the second half. Sophomore forward Alisia Jenkins finished with a team-high nine rebounds and seven points in the Bulls’ fourth straight loss.
The Bulls look to get back to even ground in league play 3 p.m. Tuesday at Houston. USF continues its two-game road trip Jan. 4 at SMU and returns to the Sun Dome on Tuesday, Jan. 7 to host Temple at 7 p.m. Purchase tickets HERE.