WACO, Texas — USF battled and scrapped hard with the #2 team in the country and defending national champs, but ultimately couldn’t get over the hump in a 58-46 loss to the Baylor Lady Bears at the Ferrell Center.
Despite the loss, the 22nd ranked Bulls (4-1) made life very tough on the bigger, deeper Baylor team. It left USF coach Jose Fernandez encouraged, even though he sensed some missed opportunities.
“I think we have a pretty damn good basketball team. It’s a one possession game in the fourth quarter,” said Fernandez. “We can look at ourselves. We shoot 5 for 13 from the free throw line... we can control that. We can control taking care of the basketball, which we didn’t, we had 19 turnovers.”
The game started out sloppy. USF missed 10 of their first 12 shots and the Lady Bears (4-0) crept out to a 13-4 lead. The Bulls pulled to within 15-10 by the end of the quarter thanks to two Elisa Pinzan threes, including one desperation shot from 35 feet out as the first-quarter buzzer sounded. Pinzan finished with four three-pointers and 14 points.
In the second quarter the game took a physical turn. The referees let a lot of rough play go under the basket as both teams barreled to the hoop and dove to the floor for loose balls. Even though USF continued to shoot poorly, they battled hard on the defensive end and the boards and only trailed 29-21 at the break.
“I thought we handled (the physical play) well,” said Fernandez. “Our rotations were there. I thought we did a good job on the glass, we outrebounded them.”
USF finished with a 35-33 rebounding edge, but over time Baylor’s constant inside game turned things in their favor, especially at the free throw line. The Lady Bears took 39 free throws to USF’s 13, and three Bulls fouled out.
“We don’t commit as many fouls as we committed today. That’s a frustrating part,” said Fernandez. “In a game like this with two good teams and it’s a two or three point game, there can’t be this kind of disparity, there can’t be.”
The Bulls made a big push to start the second half. A 13-5 run in the first five minutes cut Baylor’s lead to 34-33. USF continued to hang around, and when Bethy Mununga converted a three-point play with 27 seconds left in the quarter, the Bulls were within 39-37. Baylor got one more basket from DiDi Richards, and nearly got another after stealing a last-second inbounds pass.
USF made one more run in the fourth quarter to close the gap to 45-42, but finally ran out of time and energy. Baylor, who played without preseason All-American Lauren Cox, only opened up a double-digit lead in the final two minutes, when Juicy Landry made their only three of the game. The Bulls never led in the game despite playing close the whole way.
Baylor’s Queen Egbo (another great name) led the Lady Bears with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Mununga matched her with 16 points for USF, and she also grabbed 12 boards.
USF is back in action Sunday afternoon as they host St. Francis. After that, they head to Mexico for the Cancun Challenge over Thanksgiving weekend, which includes a matchup with suddenly vulnerable Notre Dame.