For a team that had very little to cheer about during a 4-24 campaign a year ago, the USF women’s basketball team must be jubilant after defeating Boston University and SMU this weekend to win the BU Invitational.
“This is a great feeling,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “They wouldn’t let up. They wanted to win this tournament, and it was a great birthday present.”
Fernandez got to celebrate his 30th birthday Sunday after breaking a pair of streaks. Sunday, the Bulls (2-0) dusted off the Mustangs (1-1) to win consecutive road games for the first time since the start of the 1999-2000 season. Saturday’s 76-70 victory against Boston (1-1) snapped the Bulls’ 18-game road losing streak.
“It’s early in the year, but these are the types of victories you want to get,” Fernandez said. “When it comes down to crunch time and we’re in the hunt for a postseason bid, you need quality wins against a team like (SMU) in a quality league.”
SMU, participants in six of the last eight NCAA Tournaments, are picked to finish third in the WAC but were overmatched by a Bulls team that shot 44.1 percent from the field. USF made eight three-pointers, led by Sonia Cotton, who was 4-of-8 from that distance.
Cotton was the Bulls’ leading scorer with 24 points vs. the Mustangs. One of Cotton’s threes broke a 23-all tie with 6:25 left in the first, and SMU could get no closer than three for the rest of the game.
“We got out and ran, and that’s what we needed to do,” Fernandez said. “Get out in transition and create some mismatches.”
Freshman forward Jen Kline made a big splash in her debut weekend as a Bull. With 23 points and nine rebounds vs. BU and 17 points against SMU, the Nevada native was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Kline shot 4-of-13 from three-point range against the Terriers as the Bulls broke the USF single-game record by attempting 30 three pointers. Kline was key to the Bulls’ second-half comeback against the Terriers, as she scored 20 of her 23 in the second half, when the Bulls opened with 17-2 spurt to erase Boston’s nine-point halftime lead.
“I didn’t even know if I would start or even play that much,” Kline said. “This is the most awesome thing that could have happened to us.”
While Kline sealed the Boston victory with her stellar second half, junior Aiya Shepard kept the Bulls in the game with her 16 first-half points. Shepard was USF’s leader with 25 points and nine steals vs. the Terriers. Shepard added 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists vs. SMU to earn a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
The Bulls are now halfway to last season’s win total and well on the way to their goal of nine non-conference victories.
“We aren’t just saying that we’re going to be good (this season),” Kline said. “We are going to be good, and that’s just the reality of it.”
- Anthony Gagliano covers women’s basketball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org