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No Bull, Pujol charges USF past A-Sun champs

The Bulls found themselves in a battle against the visiting Dolphins Monday evening. Every time South Florida went on a run, Jacksonville found a way to respond until late in the game when Ariadna Pujol gave her team some breathing room.

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Tampa, FL — South Florida remained undefeated at home and improved to 12-0 all time against the Jacksonville Dolphins with a 64-52 win at the Sun Dome on Monday night. Senior guard Ariadna Pujol led the Bulls with a career-high 21 points along with six rebounds and four assists.

“I think Pujol had a really, really good game,” South Florida head coach Jose Fernandez said. “She attacked, created off the dribble. We just have to get some more production from some other guys.”

South Florida was off to a hot start, and opened the game on a 7-0 run in the first two minutes of play. A three-pointer by sophomore forward Kitija Laksa forced a Jacksonville timeout where the Dolphins came back with an 8-0 run of their own and took their first lead halfway through the first quarter.

It wasn’t long before the Bulls were back on top, as Laksa hit another three and pushed the Bulls to a 16-9 lead after the first quarter. Laksa and junior forward Maria Jesperson led all scorers with six points each.

“I thought we got out of the gate to a good start,” Fernandez said. “I thought we took care of the ball really well.”

Once again South Florida struck first in the second quarter, as Tamara Henshaw made the first basket of the period. The freshman forward proved to be efficient on both ends of the court, following up with a block and racking up six boards. South Florida held Jacksonville to a 29 percent efficiency from the field, while shooting 42 percent from the same range as well as from beyond the arc.

“Henshaw came off the bench again and gave us a spark, gave us the rebounds,” Pujol said. “They (freshmen) have to be accountable when they come in off the bench.”

Though Laksa and Jesperson both went scoreless for the remainder of the half, Pujol added seven points for the Bulls, and led all scorers with 11 points and three rebounds. As the teams headed to their respective locker rooms, South Florida had the lead, 32-24.

“Maria and Kit were defended very well today,” Pujol said. “So I had to step up a little bit, because I know that we needed someone to do that.”

The Dolphins came out of the gates ready to put up a fight with a quick three-pointer by senior guard Sherranda Reddick opening the second half. Their defense increased as they held the Bulls scoreless for three minutes before Pujol finally connected from the paint. Laksa hit her third three on the next South Florida possession, and propelled the Bulls to a 7-2 run.

South Florida continued shooting well at 45 percent from the field, compared to the Jacksonville’s 30 percent. Pujol led all scorers with 15 points and five rebounds, followed by Laksa with 13 points and three rebounds, and the Bulls took a 48-35 lead into the final 10 minutes of play.

“Credit to them, Sherranda Reddick is a really nice player,” Fernandez said. “They got everybody back, they’ll win 20 plus games if not win the Atlantic Sun.”

Going into the final quarter, the Bulls opened the quarter the same as the first: draining another three, this time it was junior forward Laura Ferreira. The fight in Jacksonville remained, as once again they responded with a 5-0 to cut their deficit, and the Bulls appeared to be out of their offensive groove.

However, Pujol answered with a jumper, and inched her way towards her career-high 20 points. She knocked down two free throws which allowed her to reach a new mark, as she recorded 21 points with three minutes left to play.

Finally, the Bulls were able to run away from the Dolphins and stop their runs which consistently had kept them in the game. Behind the performances of Pujol (21 points, 6 rebounds) and Laksa (15 points, 5 rebounds), South Florida took the win, 64-52.

The Bulls will head to Bimini, Bahamas for the Junkanoo Jam, where they will take on North Carolina on Thursday at 5:15 pm.

“We’re ready to take care of business in the Bahamas,” Pujol said. “We’re ready to take them. I think it's going to be a great trip.”