Things were tight for much of the first period, but in the final five minutes of the first half, the Bulls delivered the knockout blow.
With the help of a 17-4 run heading into halftime, the South Florida Bulls carried their momentum into a dominating second period, as they defeated the Temple Owls 72-44 in the quarterfinal round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Saturday evening.
“This is not the way you want to end your season, but all credit definitely goes to USF,” coach Tonya Cardoza said.
Temple (14-16, 8-11), coming into the matchup as the No. 6 seed, has now incurred two consecutive losing seasons for the first time in the Tonya Cardoza era. The 44 points scored against No. 6 USF (19-11,12-7) is the Owls second-worst offensive output of the season.
USF has now won six straight games, and will face No.2 Louisville in the semifinal round of the conference tournament.
Bulls senior guard Inga Orekhova torched the Owls defense, scoring a game-high 22 points in 32 minutes, which includes shooting 4-of-6 from three-point range.
Three USF players scored in double figures, including sophomore guard Courtney Williams with 12 points, and forward Alisa Jenkins with 10 points.
With the Bulls finding scoring from several players, the same could not be said for the opposing Owls, who finished the game with freshman guard Feyonda Fitzgerald as the only scorer in double figure scoring and shot attempts. Fitzgerald scored a team-high 20 points on 5-of-20 shooting, and she also shot 10-of-11 from the free throw line.
“Shots weren’t falling, and I guess we just got down on ourselves,” Fitzgerald said. “When we were getting down on ourselves, USF just took off and we couldn’t get it together.”
Overall, Temple struggled offensively, shooting 14-of-58 from the field, and coming up empty on 14 three point tries, while the Bulls made 25-of-60 field goal attempts. USF also held the rebounding advantage 49-35.
The Owls held a one-point lead twice in the first five minutes of regulation, but after an offensive putback by freshman center Taylor Robinson with 16:01 remaining in the half, the Bulls took the advantage from Temple and would not relinquish it.
With Temple and USF battling in a two-possession game for long stretches of the first period, it was a Orekhova three-point field goal that pulled began to create separation for the Bulls. With her team ahead 23-17 with just under four minute remaining in the half, Williams found an open Orekhova for a long range bucket which gave USF a nine-point lead.
“We were hanging in there for the first 12 minutes, and neither team was really scoring,” Cardoza said. “Then they gave us that punch and they started killing us on the backboards and getting out in transition. We were having a difficult time scoring. It just wore on us.”
After breaking the two-possession lead open, USF proceeded to score 10 unanswered points, before a pair of Fitzgerald free throws ended the Bulls run.
At halftime, Temple trailed USF 36-19, and in the second period, the closest the Owls came to closing the deficit was 15 points in the first minutes of the half. The Bulls led by as many as 32 points.
“We dug ourselves in a deep hole and so there was nothing we could do,” Fitzgerald said.