Tampa, FL -- The loss of former University of South Florida standouts, Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins, didn’t hold the Bulls back in their 2016-17 season opener at the Sun Dome, as USF defeated North Florida, 78-42.
“Typical opening night,” USF head coach Jose Fernandez said. “I think we played with a little bit of nervousness and jitters, but this team shares the ball really well.”
Junior forward Laia Flores grabbed South Florida’s first points of the season with a quick three-pointer to start the game off hot. The Bulls dictated the entire first quarter, where they dominated on both sides of the court, shooting 44 percent compared to North Florida’s 21 percent, and grabbing 16 boards compared to the Ospreys’ nine.
At the first media timeout, South Florida held a commanding 10-3 lead, with half of the Bulls’ points belonging to sophomore Kitija Laksa. The former American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year led the Bulls to a 22-9 lead after the first 10 minutes of play, and led all scorers with 8 points and 2 rebounds.
“I like the versatility that we can play so many kids at the wing,” Fernandez said. “In Kit [Laksa], and Maria [Jesperson] ... that’s definitely our strength.”
The Bulls remained in control for the second quarter, at one point holding the Ospreys to a mere 15 percent shot efficiency from the field. Junior forward Maria Jesperson was the first Bull to hit double digits, finishing the half with 10 points and 5 rebounds. Though USF’s shot efficiency decreased to 37 percent, the Bulls closed the quarter shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, hitting 6-of-12.
The South Florida Women’s Basketball Twitter account cleverly noted, “No. 33 gets the 33rd point, on a 3!” Behind Laksa’s 11 points and 3 rebounds, the Bulls took a 36-18 lead at the end of the half.
“It’s nice to know we trust each other enough to get each one the ball, and know that they’re going to do something productive with it, whether its rebound, assist, or shoot,” senior center Katelyn Weber said.
North Florida came out of the locker room ready to fight, going on a 7-4 run to open the third quarter. The Ospreys, who shot a better 50 percent on the quarter, held the Bulls to a five-minute scoring drought before Jesperson, who led all scorers with 14 points and 7 rebounds, sank two free throws.
South Florida continued on an 8-0 run ending with a steal and two consecutive baskets from freshman forward Tamara Henshaw. Laksa added two points, and a rebound, and the Bulls held a 57-34 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
“I told Tamara not to be nervous, and she took my advice!” Weber laughed and said. “All of the newcomers are very versatile; multiple people can play different positions.”
USF was ready to take the game back and seal the deal in the fourth quarter, dominating offensively and defensively. To much of the Sun Dome’s surprise, Bulls fans saw action from junior Laura Ferreira, who was thought to possibly be redshirted this season due to plantar fasciitis.
She hit a three halfway through the quarter, contributing to South Florida’s 9-of-24 baskets from beyond the arc. Jesperson finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds, Henson grabbed 7 boards in 13 minutes and Weber tied her career high 11 rebounds. The Bulls finished shooting at 36 percent, and a 78-42 victory behind Laksa’s 18 points and 5 rebounds.
“We just wanted to get her a little bit of time,” Fernandez said on Ferreira. “Wanted to get her up and down the court.”
“Second half I thought we went to the glass a lot better,” Fernandez said. “I was pleased that we kept people in front of us, we didn’t foul.”