The USF women’s basketball went into the USF Best Western Classic this weekend riding a two-game losing skid, but the Bulls played what might have been the two best games of their season and won their home tournament for the third consecutive year.
After dismantling Akron 81-43 on Saturday, USF (3-2) turned an 11-point halftime lead into a 73-53 victory against the University of Missouri-Kansas City in the tournament championship Sunday afternoon.
“The kids came into this weekend pissed off,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “(We) came in this weekend with the goal in mind that we needed to take care of this at home.”
Junior Rae Rae Sayles was named tournament MVP after posting a double double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in Sunday’s championship game, but the award could easily have gone to a number of Bulls. The team played the entire weekend unselfishly, which is something junior co-captain Alana Tanksley sees as a stark contrast to last year’s squad.
“I think this year we are a lot more unselfish, and we’re ready to win as a team and not as individuals,” Tanksley said. “(We’re focused on) winning together and not just thinking about individual stats.”
The stat sheets support Tanksley’s point. At least three Bulls posted double figures in each game this weekend and the team had more than 20 assists in each game, including 18 total from junior point guard Anedra Gilmore.
And each player on the Bulls roster seemed to maximize her playing time, even if it consisted of just a few minutes on the floor. Like Tanksley, who scored 10 points against Akron in just 13 minutes of play and junior Tristen Webb, who chipped in 12 after coming off the bench in just 10 minutes during the same game.
“It’s great to watch and that’s a credit to our program getting better and getting to where it’s at,” Fernandez said. “Three years ago, we couldn’t do that.”
That also takes the pressure off Fernandez and his coaching staff, who believe the hardest thing to do is make sure everybody gets adequate time on the court.
“Right now we’ll play everybody as long as everybody continues to compete,” Fernandez said. “And that’s what you want.”
USF led 37-26 at the break before the Bulls opened the second half on a 7-0 run, with five of those points coming from Sayles, to push the Bulls’ lead to 18 points.
All-tournament selection Jessica Dickson then pushed the lead to 22 points on a layup with 15:22 remaining, while Nalini Miller, the third Bull to make the all-tournament team, gave USF, with a pair of free throws, its biggest lead against the Kangaroos, at 64-39 and with less than eight minutes on the clock. In Saturday’s game against Akron, USF never trailed en route to its blowout victory. Everyone on the Bulls’ roster, with the exception of senior guard Melissa Tape, who shot the ball only twice, made at least one field goal. The Bulls dominated the Zips on both ends of the floor, shooting 47 percent from the field while holding Akron to just 24 percent.
Miller led the way with 12 points and seven rebounds, while Gilmore added eight points, eight assists and five rebounds.
Senior Sarah Lochmann, USF’s leading returning scorer, made her first field goal of the season, while sophomore transfer Ezria Parsons saw her first extended action this season, scoring eight points and grabbing six boards in 12 minutes.
Although this season’s team is very different from last year’s, returning players surely remember what happened after last season’s tournament victory. The Bulls were 4-3 after last year’s tournament title, but the team managed just three wins in their final 20 games.
“We haven’t really discussed last year and what happened,” Tanksley said. “We tend to focus on the positives of this year. We’re focused on our goals and what we want to do this year.”
And the next goal is seeking some revenge against intrastate rival Florida, who defeated the Bulls by 11 points last year in Gainesville. The Gators travel to the Sun Dome on Tuesday night to face USF.
“It’s our house and we want to protect our floor,” Tanksley said.