The West Virginia University women’s basketball team fell to No. 16 South Florida, 77-55, on Monday afternoon, at Keiser University in West Palm Beach, to open the 2021 West Palm Beach Invitational.
West Virginia (6-3, 0-0 Big 12) was led by senior guard Madisen Smith, who tallied a team-high 15 points. Smith was joined in double figures by junior guard KK Deans, who netted 13 points. Fifth-year senior forward Ari Gray paced WVU on the glass, with five rebounds.
West Virginia fell behind early in the contest, as South Florida converted an and-one try in the opening minute. A free throw from senior forward Kari Niblack got WVU on the board a minute later, but back-to-back scores by USF forced the Mountaineers to call a timeout down by six with 6:41 to go in the quarter.
The Mountaineers tacked on four points following the break, including a 3-pointer by Smith, but the Bulls scored eight tallies of their own, forcing WVU to call another timeout. After South Florida made it a 13-point deficit with 4:00 remaining in the quarter, Deans broke the scoring run with four points of her own to make it a nine-point game. West Virginia kept the opposition scoreless from the floor until 37 seconds remained in the quarter, and the Mountaineers added eight tallies to cut the deficit to 22-17 at the end of the first.
WVU and USF traded scores to begin the second quarter, but neither team was able to tack on over the next two minutes. Inside the seven-minute mark, the Bulls converted a triple and a fast break, as the Mountaineers trailed, 29-19, with 6:13 to go in the half. A steal-and-score by freshman guard JJ Quinerly cut the game to single digits, but South Florida got the score right back. West Virginia trailed by 10 at the second-quarter media break.
The two teams each netted a 3-pointer coming out of the timeout, but those would end up being the last field goals until 43 seconds were left in the first half. USF scored on a baseline jumper, but a trio of free throws from WVU helped trim the deficit to 36-27 heading into the halftime locker room.
Of note, Smith tallied 10 points in the first two quarters and was the only player in the game to finish the first half in double figures.
Junior forward Esmery Martinez opened the second half with a tally at the free-throw line, but South Florida countered with a 3-pointer on the other end. After Niblack scored on a baseline drive, USF rattled off a 6-0 run to widen the gap and force WVU to call another timeout.
Deans scored following the break to get West Virginia back on the board, but another score by the Bulls made it a 47-32 game in favor of USF at the third-quarter media timeout.
With just over three minutes remaining in the quarter, Martinez converted an and-1 try just before Smith tacked on a fast-break score to make it a 10-point game. However, South Florida continued to fire on all cylinders and scored 11 points to stretch its lead to 21 points. Smith banked in a 3-pointer as time expired in the frame, as the Mountaineers trailed, 58-40, heading into the final 10 minutes of the game.
The fourth quarter began with a score by WVU, but USF netted eight more points to make it a 24-point deficit with 7:11 remaining. Three points by Niblack halted the Bulls’ offense for a spell, but West Virginia trailed, 72-45, at the final media timeout.
The Mountaineers netted 10 points over the final four minutes of the contest, but the damage had been done. South Florida continued to produce offensively down the stretch, as WVU suffered its third loss of the season.
West Virginia continues tournament play on Tuesday, Dec. 21, as the Mountaineers square off against Michigan State at Keiser University in West Palm Beach. Tip-off against the Spartans is set for 11 a.m. ET. Tuesday’s contest will be broadcast on FloHoops.