Behind an impressive rebounding performance and a balanced scoring attack, the #25 USF Bulls women’s basketball team knocked off UCF 62-45 on Sunday afternoon in front of 2,370 at the Sun Dome.
With the win, USF improves to 14-4 overall and leaps into sole possession of second place in the American Athletic Conference play at 4-1. The Bulls also improved to 26-9 all-time against their bitter rivals from down the road.
“I think the key to this game was how our players defended, we played really good team defense and held them to one shot and out,” head coach Jose Fernandez said. “We missed a lot of layups though, point blank. I liked the extra effort on a lot of 50/50 balls... but now we move on.”
Both teams went back-and-forth for the majority of the first quarter until a three-ball from junior guard Kitija Laksa and a jumper from senior forward Maria Jespersen gave USF a 13-6 lead and the games first bit of separation.
The Bulls led 13-8 at the end of one quarter after a late 7-2 run, aided by a 12-5 rebounding advantage.
A quick 7-0 run for USF was finished off with a layup in transition by junior Laura Ferreira to increase the Bulls’ lead to 17-10 midway through the second quarter and force the Knights into a timeout.
Ferreira finished with eight points and grabbed six rebounds.
Back-to-back offensive rebounds by Tamara Henshaw and Jespersen allowed senior point guard Laia Flores to drain a three and that would be followed up by an Alyssa Rader layup to give the Bulls a 23-12 lead.
Flores finished with 14 points, ten of those in the first half and added seven rebounds with four assists.
Over the final 5:23 of the second quarter, the Bulls outscored the Knights 17-2 and ended the half on an 11-0 run. USF outscored C. 21-6 in the second quarter and took a 34-14 lead into the locker room.
USF struggled early in the third quarter and went scoreless for nearly six minutes before Jespersen ended the drought with a traditional three-point play to give the Bulls a 40-19 lead.
Jespersen finished with 13 points, and chipped in seven rebounds and four assists despite shooting 0-of-3 from behind the arc.
“It feels really good,” Jespersen said. “We waited a year to play this game again and we really prepared in practice with some different things.”
As a team, the Bulls shot just 27% (6-of-22) from three-point range and only 38% from the floor. Despite the lopsided score, USF missed a ton of shots in the second half and turned it over 17 times.
It was a 47-28 lead for USF entering the final quarter before sharpshooter Laksa drained back-to-back threes to break a personal rough stretch.
Laksa ended up with a team-high 16 points, shooting 4-of-10 from long distance and grabbing five rebounds.
The Bulls out-rebounded the Knights 48-30 overall and 17-6 on the offensive end to put the game out of reach.
“A lot of these kids remember last year, losing those two in a row at home especially to these guys,” Fernandez added. “I told them to just go about their business and defend...and that’s what they did.”
USF will travel to Memphis on Wednesday night to continue conference play. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.