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Bulls sink Pirates’ ship with 75-54 win

The No. 19 University of South Florida Bulls defeated the East Carolina University Pirates 75-54, led by senior guard Courtney Williams with 21 points and 11 rebounds, and senior guard Shalethia Stringfield, who put up a career-high 22 points.

Sandy Czarnecki - Swish Appeal

Tampa, FL -- The No. 19 University of South Florida Bulls defeated the East Carolina University Pirates 75-54 in the teams' second matchup this season.  In the Bulls and Pirates first battle, USF pulled away with a last-second 61-59 finish after senior guard Courtney Williams hit a buzzer beater from the elbow.

This afternoon, Williams led the Bulls to victory again, putting up 21 points and 11 rebounds, alongside senior guard Shalethia Stringfield, who recorded a career-high 22 points.

"When the team starts to coach themselves and to hold each other accountable, you've got a good basketball team," USF head coach Jose Fernandez said.

Williams, who was named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top-20 list on Friday, put up the Bulls first points within the first 20 seconds of the game. ECU held USF to a 29 percent efficiency from the field, and the Bulls' difficulty connecting from beyond the arc gave the Pirates an edge. USF went 0-for-4 from the three-point range, compared to the Pirates 3-for-8, allowing ECU to hold a 15-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.

"The beginning of the game, I definitely didn't like the way we played," Fernandez said. "ECU capitalized off turnovers and second-chance points."

USF increased its shot efficiency to 35 percent in the second quarter, and didn't allow ECU to put up any more threes, while recording two of their own. With two minutes left in the quarter, Williams hit USF's first three-pointer of the game, followed by another with 35 seconds left. She finished the half with an 8-0 run, giving the Bulls a 32-30 advantage heading into the locker room, and leading all scorers with 13 points and 7 rebounds.

"She's different," Fernandez said on Williams' performance after an ankle tweak at Tulane on Wednesday. "I think she didn't have the lift today that she usually does, but she did a much better job facilitating and defending."

Freshman forward Kitija Laksa, who was named by the American Athletic Conference as the Player of the Week, hit her first three in the third quarter. Though her shooting performance was uncharacteristic, only putting up three points on the day, she had a strong presence on the boards, with five rebounds by the end of the quarter.

Strong three- point shooting (57 percent) and a 17-4 run to finish the quarter gave the Bulls a 53-42 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of play.

"Our team, we have grown a lot," Stringfield said. "We're getting a better understanding of where each person would like the ball, and what we have to do defensively to stop the teams we need to beat."

USF capitalized off of drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, hitting 9-of-10 in the first five minutes. With four minutes left to play, Williams hit the Bulls first field goal of the quarter, followed by an and-one play by Stringfield, who put up 14 points in the quarter and finished with a career-high 22 points.

"What makes me excited is playing with my teammates and feeding off of them," Stringfield said. "Defense makes offense, so we have to get stops on defense to get our offense going. So basically that's what I fed off is my team and our defense."

The Bulls will travel to Memphis on Wednesday for an 8 p.m. tipoff.