Despite holding the lead deep into the third quarter, East Carolina women’s basketball couldn’t avoid dropping its eighth straight game, as they lost to the University of South Florida, 76-66, Wednesday night.
“I saw a lot of positives that I think we can build on,” said ECU head coach Heather Macy. “I am really proud of the way they competed but understanding that we are looking for results and that's not the result that we want."
Everything seemed to be going fine for the Pirates (10-14, 1-10 AAC), as they led 52-46 against No. 22 USF (19-4, 8-2 AAC) with a little over three minutes remaining in the third. At that point, ECU forward Kristen Gaffney, who finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds for her third double-double of the season, went down in the paint after some contact. Gaffney briefly exited the game, and when she returned, ECU’s lead was gone for good.
“I think that was a turning point for us,” said Macy. “It was a little momentum shift when we didn't get the call. It was physical play in the post that turned into a bump on the other end."
While the Pirates dwindled away in the fourth quarter shooting only 33.3 percent from the field, the Bulls turned it up a notch, making 58.3 percent of their shots in the final quarter. USF’s offensive onslaught was led by forward Kitija Laksa, as she finished with 34 points and six rebounds.
Laksa showcased her all-around game, as she nailed pull-up jumpers, cut to the basket for layups and also shot 4-for-8 from behind the 3-point arc. Forward Maria Jespersen chipped in with 16 points and six rebounds.
It wasn’t just the poor fourth quarter shooting that doomed the Pirates. Once again, they left free points on the table, going 9-for-16 from the free throw line (56.3 percent). They also committed 16 turnovers, which USF converted into 15 points. On the other hand, ECU scored only five points from the Bulls’ 10 turnovers.
On a positive note for ECU, they out-rebounded USF 36-33, despite giving up size to the Bulls. The Pirates also surpassed their season shooting average of 40.7 percent, making 44.8 percent of their shots. Unfortunately for them, the Bulls shot 51.7 percent.
As the game tipped off, both teams came out with lots of energy. After falling behind 7-4 in the opening 1:15 of the game, USF responded with a 7-0 run. Using a media timeout to gather themselves, the Pirates answered with a 9-0 run of their own. The opening quarter ended with ECU leading 20-15, with ECU shooting 64.3 percent and USF shooting 50.0 percent at that point.
In the second, ECU cooled off a bit, shooting 41.2 percent. This allowed the Bulls to close the lead to 26-25, with 5:06 left in the second. ECU guard Antoinette Bannister, who finished with 10 points, sparked a 7-0 run by hitting a three and then immediately getting a steal on the opposite end of the court. A 9-0 run by the Bulls gave them a 34-33 lead with 2:22 left in the half, but back-to-back threes by the Pirates made sure ECU went in to the break with a 39-37 lead.
The third quarter saw the Bulls briefly take the lead in the opening minutes, but ECU responded with a 12-4 run to take a six point lead. Gaffney then briefly left the game and USF went on a 10-0 run to end the quarter and take the lead. A lead they didn’t give up.
Next up, the Pirates will take on Temple at Minges Coliseum Saturday afternoon.