If there are players on the USF women’s basketball team that thought about declaring early for the WNBA Draft, maybe they’ll reconsider after losing their exhibition game by 19 points to the Premier Players Friday. The Players, a squad led by 2001 WNBA first-round picks Kelly and Coco Miller, used their superior athleticism to nullify the Bulls’ full-court trap and limit USF to 26.5 percent shooting in the first half.
The Bulls got to within one at 19-18, but from there the Players used a 10-0 run to extend their 24-21 lead to 13. At the half, the Bulls trailed by 14, 43-29.
For the game, the Millers each shot five of nine from the field, combining for 25 points and just four turnovers. Penn State alumnae Lisa Shepard shot lights out for the Players, going three of six from three-point range. Shepard was the Players’ leading scorer and rebounder on the night with 20 and 11, respectively. As a team, the Players shot more than 50 percent from the floor.
USF was led by Sonia Cotton, who scored 26 points in her Bulls’ debut. As a transfer from Florida International, Cotton sat out a year ago and could only practice with the squad. The junior shot 10 of 23 from the field with four rebounds. Cotton was eight of nine at the free throw line and two of six from downtown.
“It was a great opportunity for our newcomers, especially Sonia Cotton, to come out of the gate like she did (after) having a year off,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “Sonia Cotton definitely (is a player to watch) having one year to work on her game, staying away from basketball. She’s been a great surprise.”
The exhibition against the Premier Players also allowed three freshmen to see their first collegiate action, even though it was against professional players.
“This was an excellent measuring stick for our freshmen to open up their careers, especially playing against Kelly and Coco Miller, Sonja Chase, Lisa Shepard, all kids who were All-Americans at the Division I level,” Fernandez said. “It’s great for our kids to get to play great competition early to give us a good test where we’re at and where we need to be.”
Among the three freshmen, forward Jen Kline had the biggest impact, connecting on three of nine shots behind the arc. Kline finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, tying Sarah Lochmann for the team high in boards. Aiya Shepard was second on the Bulls in scoring with 17 and ignited Fernandez’s fast break offense with five steals.
The game was marred by a combined 50 personal fouls. The two teams combined to shoot 57 free throws.
“I was very pleased with our offensive play – how quickly we got the ball up the floor,” Fernandez said. “Our defense wasn’t too bad, nothing we can’t fix, to tell you the truth. I think everybody’s really excited for the season to begin. Our players are tired of going head-to-head against each other everyday in practice.”
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