By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Shots seemed to be going everywhere but the bottom of the bucket for USF early in the second half Wednesday night.
Look at the stats and you could have thought a tough loss was destined to happen for the Bulls, who were shooting about 20 percent from the field.
"I was disappointed in our ball club those first 25 minutes," head coach Jose Fernandez said. "I don't know where our mind frame was at."
Suddenly it all changed for USF, however, with a tough layup and foul shot by Sasha Bernard. Seton Hall's lead was cut to nine and Bernard's determination sparked a 22-3 run that powered the USF band to play a winning tune by the final buzzer at the school's cozy, but very loud recreation center.
"Teams find a way to win and I thought Sasha Bernard, Tahira Johnson and Andrell Smith gave us a huge spark in the second half and gave us some great minutes," Fernandez said.
On a night when some of USF's usual stars didn't shine, Fernandez's call to the bench proved to be a genius move during the Bulls' big stretch run. Bernard and three other bench players scored 12 of USF's 22 during the momentum shift that allowed patient home fans the opportunity to see the Bulls' first lead of the game with less than 8 minutes remaining.
Non-starter Kaneisha Saunders was in double figures with 13 points and six assists, and the Bulls got eight important rebounds from Johnson.
"Our starting lineup, we didn't get a lot from our guys tonight," Fernandez said. "There are going to be nights when guys, for one reason or another, don't play well offensively. We had other people step up."
One starter in particular - Jasmine Wynne - did step up as usual and scored 14 of her game-high 19 points after the break. The senior was in double figures for the 17th straight game, but her work away from the ball contributed to the key reason the Bulls won - defense. USF forced 23 turnovers and came up with 16 steals - five from Wynne, who leads the Big East with 2.9 per game.
"In the second half I think she let the game come to her a little bit," said Fernandez of Wynne, the team's season scoring leader.
Wednesday's game only counts as one win for USF (12-9, 4-3), but the night's experience could prove to pay future dividends for a Bulls team that's finding ways to stay in games when things aren't always going well. Knowing that you can climb back from a 12-point deficit in the second half sure is a confidence boost.
"If we want to finish with a good enough conference record to go to the NCAA Tournament we have to protect our home floor," Fernandez said.
Wednesday's victory could play a big hand in getting to the dance.