The USF women’s basketball team got the spark it needed, thanks to the return of sophomore center Nalini Miller, as the Bulls upset first-place Charlotte on Monday 68-59. With the win, which marked number 15 for the season, the women came one step closer to breaking their single-season record for games won — which is 16 –and earned a 12-2 home record.
With 15:52 left in the first half, the Bulls got the good news they had been waiting for when Miller came into the game. Miller played only 20 minutes, but gave her team a lift with her inside presence on offense.
“We got zoned tonight and got much more open space because Miller makes the zone collapse because they have to guard her,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.
The Bulls (15-9, 5-5 C-USA) jumped out to a 15-5 lead and never looked back as they shot 40 percent from the floor and 71 percent from the free throw line.
Sophomore forward Jessica Dickson led the team with 21 points. Junior Ezria Parsons had a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds and senior guard Anedra Gilmore added 12 assists.
The 49ers (19-4, 7-2 C-USA) came into the game with only one conference loss. Charlotte forward Pam Brown led her team with 17 points and six rebounds and Sakellie Daniels added 12 points.
The story of the game was Miller’s return to play after being out of action for one month with a strained hamstring. Miller had only five points and three rebounds, but the numbers alone don’t tell the story.
After the game, Fernandez realized that Miller’s return meant more than just having his starting center back; it meant something to the other players.
“Without a doubt (having her back was an emotional lift),” Fernandez said.
Gilmore added on her team’s capability to play well with Miller’s return, “We know that we’re capable of beating anybody. We’ve been down a lot of people. Now we got everybody back and we’re ready to go. We were at full throttle tonight.”
Miller’s return gave Parsons the ability to roam for rebounds and enabled her to have one of the biggest games of her USF career.
“Ezria had a great basketball game,” Fernandez said. “She really prides herself on how she plays defensively. If I were to name someone she compares to, I would name Dennis Rodman. It’s just great to have someone on the team so unselfish.”
The win put USF right back on the NCAA tournament track and with just four games left, the Bulls will practically have to go undefeated to clinch their first tournament berth. Three of the four games are on the road, but USF should be favored in all four versus Tulane, Southern Miss and a home-and-home set against UAB to end the season.
But Fernandez won’t let his team get too caught up in their postseason aspirations.
“We can’t worry what our final record will be, but have to worry about the next 40 minutes.”