The women's USF Bulls basketball team traveled to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands this past week in hopes of making a name for themselves against some tough competition in the Paradise Jam tournament. For the most part i think the ladies did just that, despite suffering their first loss on the season. On thursday, Nov. 27th Thanksgiving day, the Bulls tipped things off with a matchup against No. 3 ranked California. The girls knew that this would be one of the stiffest tests of the season for them and would be a pretty good measuring stick for life in the Big East this year. Well, the Bulls, who had been averaging 98.5 points per game and giving up just 46.2 points per contest in their first four games, found out just how good the Golden Bears were as they suffered in an 85-55 setback at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports & Fitness Center. The Bulls shot a season low 28.6% from the floor and were forced into 12 turnovers. They could not seem to find a rythm on either end of the floor throughout the game. The second half looked a little bit more promising but could not overcome the huge deficit. Jazmine Sepulveda scored 11 points while Shantia Grace added 10 points in the loss. Porche Grant grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Sophomore Danielle Starzynski who had been out due to a back injury entered the game in the 4th quarter in hopes of turning things around for her team but it seemed to be a little too late. Starzynski finished with 16pts and 4 steals on the night, impressive for just one quarter of play.
The Bulls came into Friday night's contest with Iowa looking to get back on track after being humbled by Califronia the previous night in the first game of the Paradise Jam. And get back on track is what USF did in an 82-79 overtime gut-check win over Iowa in back of 27 points from Shantia Grace and 21 points off the bench from an injured Danielle Starzynski. The Bulls (5-1), who looked like a totally different team after their game last night, found itself with an early 4-3 lead on a three-pointer by Grace just under two minutes into the contest. The Hawkeyes (4-2), however, would find their offense and use an 11-3 run from Grace’s trey to the 15:19 mark which was capped by a Megan Skouby jumper to give Iowa a 14-6 edge. USF would get back in to the contest cutting the lead to one, 20-19 on a lay up by Alexis Givands off a Starzynski steal with 8:09 left in the half. After an Iowa miss and a Sepulveda rebound, Grace would hit a lay up to give the Bulls just their second lead of the game, 21-20, with just over eight minutes remaining in the first stanza. USF would push the lead to as many as eight points, and eventually take a 44-40 lead into the locker room at the intermission. The second half saw both teams coming out and not wanting to take control. Neither team led by more than four points – with that being USF holding a 53-49 lead with 13:35 left in regulation – through the first nine minutes of the second stanza. The Bulls would make the first move when Starzynski hit a three-pointer with 10:04 left to give USF a 61-56 lead. USF would get the lead to a game-high 12 points, 68-56, with 8:11 left on a lay up by Sepulveda. Iowa then put it’s own run together closing the final 7:46 on a 16-6 run capped by Wendy Ausdenmore’s trey with three seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 74-all. Grace had a desperation shot from just inside half court that fell short. The Bulls took control in the extra session outscoring the Hawkeyes 8-5 en route to the win. Grace would finish shooting 6-21 from the field, including 5-10 from three-point range, and 10-15 from the free-throw line. She also had three rebounds, three steals and two assists in 38 minutes. Starzynski led the Bulls with 24 points, 6 steals and 5 assists on the night. On the night, USF shot 37.1 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from behind the arc. Once again it also caused havoc on the defensive side forcing Iowa into 27 turnovers which lead to 28 points for the Bulls.
On Saturday night the Bulls played their final game of the three-day Paradise Jam event in St. Thomas and took another step with an impressive 71-61 win over Texas Tech. Danielle Starzynski came off her 24-point performance friday night to lead the Bulls in scoring against Texas Tech with 19 points, while Shantia Grace and Janae Stokes each added 13 points in the victory. Brittany Denson chipped in with 12 points.
“This was a tremendous win for our basketball team,” said USF head coach Jose Fernandez. “We had a very successful trip here to the Paradise Jam and couldn’t be more thrilled with us coming out with a 2-1 record. Now we need to keep the intensity up when we get back to Tampa and get ready for Florida International on Friday night and then we take a week off for exams.”
USF (6-1), who led for all of the first half except for three ties and two times when the Red Raiders (4-3) took one point leads, would lead by as many as five in the first stanza but could not shake Texas Tech. The Bulls would take a 31-29 lead into the locker room at the intermission. In the second half, the Red Raiders would take what would be, at that time, their largest lead of the game, three points (37-34) on a Dominic Seals jumper with 16:14 remaining in the contest.
Starzynski would immediately get the lead back, 38-37, hitting a driving lay up with 14:47 left, and then Grant stole the inbounds pass and hit a lay up with 14:44 left to give USF a three –point advantage, 40-37. The Bulls pushed the lead to five points, 43-38, on a three-pointer by Stokes with 13:47 remaining. Texas Tech, however, would score 16 of the next 23 points to take it’s biggest lead of the evening, 54-50, on shot from behind the arc from Keisha Walker with 8:08 left. USF may have bent but they would not break, closing the final eight minutes of the contest on a 21-7 run to put the game out of reach. On the night, the Red Raiders shot 44.9 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from behind the three-point arc, while the Bulls were just 36.8 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent from three-point range. One area that USF did shine in on the offensive end of the floor was the free throw line hitting 79.3 percent of its shots. With that said, the Bulls solely won this game on the defensive end of the floor. For the sixth time in its seven games this season, USF forced its opposition into more than 26 turnovers, as the Red Raiders recorded 27 miscues on the night which led to 25 points. Starzynski led the way with 7 steals.
The Bulls would leave the island with a 2-1 record, proving themselves a force to be reckoned with once Big East action begins in January. Following their return to Tampa, the Bulls will have a week to prepare for their match-up with Florida International on Friday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. in the Sun Dome. Stay tuned and we'll keep you updated as always. Go Bulls!