TAMPA, Fla. – South Florida coach Jose Fernandez wants more than close calls against Top-25 teams.
April Sykes had 23 points and 10 rebounds, Khadijah Rushdan scored 16 points and No. 7 Rutgers beat South Florida 72-66 on Saturday night.
The Bulls were coming off a 66-63 overtime win against No. 21 DePaul on Tuesday. South Florida completed a stretch of playing four of five games against Top 25 teams — before beating DePaul, the Bulls lost to ranked Georgetown and Louisville and beat unranked Seton Hall.
"I was proud of how our kids fought, but I told our kids at the end of the year, there's not an asterisk saying we played Georgetown tough, they played Louisville tough, should have won against the No. 7 team in the country," Fernandez said. "It comes down to wins and losses. We've got to start closing out some of these Top 25 games."
South Florida (11-9, 3-3 Big East) got 15 points from Inga Orekhova. The junior college transfer was 4 of 9 from 3-point range.
"(Orekhova) shoots so well, that game was never out of sight," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.
Monique Oliver finished with 14 points for the Scarlet Knights (16-3, 5-1), who had a six-game winning streak snapped Tuesday in a 62-57 loss to St. John's.
South Florida also got 12 points from Jasmine Wynne, and 11 from both Tiffany Connor and Kaneisha Saunders.
"They made Jasmine Wynne and Inga Orekhova work for every shot," Fernandez said. "They're athletic. They're No. 7 in the country for a reason."
Rutgers' lead slipped to 70-64 in the final minute, but the Scarlet Knights were able to secure the win with two late free throws.
Oliver's three-point play made it 62-49 with 5 minutes left.
Orekhova scored five consecutive points to get South Florida within 49-44 at the 10-minute mark of the second half.
Oliver scored two of her nine first-half points on a layup with a second remaining to put Rutgers up 29-27. The Scarlet Knights outrebounded South Florida 18-9 during the opening half.
"The first half, we gave up too many second shot opportunities," Fernandez said.
Rutgers, which trailed by eight early on, went ahead 15-13 on Rushdan's three-point play with 9:48 left in the first half.
Orekhova hit a pair of 3s, helping South Florida go up 11-3 just 5 minutes into the game.
Sykes made a layup and hit a jumper to get Rutgers within 13-12 midway through the first half.
In the loss at St. John's, Rutgers turned the ball over 21 times, committed 25 fouls and was outscored 26-7 from the free throw line.
Both teams scored 14 points on free throws Saturday. Rutgers had 19 turnovers.