So it’s one thing when you beat UNF and Jacksonville at home to not be ranked. And leaving USF out of the Top 25 after losing Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins in the preseason can certainly be justified.
But after last week, no more. And being the first team out and the de facto #26 in both the AP and USA Today poll isn’t good enough. USF Women’s Basketball appears to have reloaded, and they are absolutely for real.
The Bulls went down to the Junaknoo Jam in Bimini, Bahamas and steamrolled North Carolina 83-55, then hammered Georgia 81-65. Kitija Laksa scored 34 points in both games and was named tournament MVP as well as American Conference Player of The Week. She was 22-40 from the floor, and 14-23 from three-point range.
Senior swing Ari Puyol, whose late-career revival evokes Helen Mirren, averaged 24.5 points in both contests, and was 10-13 from the floor vs. Georgia. Her 19 ppg and 5.3 rebounds are the RKO #OuttaNowhere that has given this team the element they’ve needed.
“We lost three very good players from last year’s team and in the record books for our program,” said head coach Jose Fernandez. “This group and style is just different, but our expectations, work and goals are no different. Flores, Pujol and Jespersen gained great experience as reserves and their work ethic and positive attitude shows by their performance now. It's their time.”
The Bulls rotation is at least nine-deep, with promising freshman Tamara Henshaw already leading the team in rebounds at 8.3 per game in just 20 minutes per game. You can also see the potential in players like 6’4 guard Jazz Bond, she of the super-long limbs and totally broken jump shot. She’s going to get a lot better playing for this team, and will be a factor before this season is over and beyond.
The other revelation has been Laia Flores from the point guard spot, who has 23 assists and just eight turnovers & 9.3 points per game so far. She gives stability to the offense and gets playmakers in position effectively. Last year’s guard-whomever forward Laura Ferreira has been on limited minutes fighting plantar fascitis, but she continues to increase her minutes.
The best quote this team had last year was from Laksa, who said her teammates told her to just “let it fly.” This year, everyone is letting it fly: the Bulls are 40.4% from three-point range already this season.
So: BANDWAGON’S OPEN AGAIN YOU GUYS. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably on the bandwagon already because this looks like the most entertaining team on campus. As per usual. And after losing the best player in school history and the best rebounder, that’s pretty incredible.
The Bulls attempt to keep it rolling against FIU tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in the Sun Dome.