The USF women’s basketball team opened regular season play Tuesday. Despite early foul trouble from three starters, the Bulls were able to defeat the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats and give eighth-year head coach Jose Fernandez the 101st victory of his USF career.
The Bulls (1-0) started slowly, and several players got into early foul trouble. Senior forward ChiChi Okpaleke played only five minutes into the first half before picking up her second foul. Juniors Jessica Lawson and Shantia Grace each picked up their second fouls within the first six and eight minutes of the half, respectively.
The Bulls also had to deal with several miscues in the first half. USF turned the ball over 10 times in the first half – 20 in all – and shot only 55 percent from the free throw line throughout the game.
Fernandez said he felt the mistakes put a glare on the season-opening win.
“Free throw shooting and turnovers have to improve,” Fernandez said. “Giving up 49 points and 20 turnovers, that concerns me.”
One bright spot for the Bulls in the first half was junior point guard Jazmine Sepulveda. In the first half alone, Sepulveda shot 5-7 from the field, including 3-3 on three-point attempts. She finished the half with 13 points and two steals, and finished the game with 16 points, six assists, and three steals.
The Bulls had a lot of help off the bench in the first half to go along with the strong play of Sepulveda. Sophomore Porche Grant had seven points and seven rebounds off the bench in the first half. She finished the game with seven points and 14 rebounds.
“We’ve got a lot of depth on this year’s team,” Fernandez said. “We’re an up-tempo team. We run and we press. I like our depth and I like that we can play a lot of people.”
In the second half, the Bulls’ starters seemed to get back into the swing of the game. Grace came out of the halftime break firing – scoring 11 of the Bulls’ first 15 points of the half. She shot 4-4 from three-point territory, and finished with 14 points and two assists.
“In the first half, I came out kind of laid back. I shouldn’t have, but I was,” Grace said. “In the second half I knew that I had to step up. The shots were going in, so I just kept shooting them.”
One big story for the Bulls was the debut of Lawson. After missing the 2005/2006 season with an injured left knee, Lawson had to sit out last year due to NCAA transfer regulations. Despite picking up four fouls on the game, Lawson finished tied for the game-high with 16 points. She also pulled down six rebounds.
“I think I was just excited about the whole season,” Lawson said. “I’m just happy that I got to play. I was really excited.”
In the game, USF made 11 three-point shots, which was the most by any Bulls squad since January 6, 2002.