The USF women’s basketball team remained perfect this season, defeating Miami 76-68 Tuesday. The Bulls’ fifth victory, one more than the 2000-01 team’s total, was especially sweet for USF coach Jose Fernandez and forward Sonia Cotton. The Miami natives took great pleasure in knocking off their hometown team in USF’s most played rivalry. The Bulls (5-0) improve to 11-25 all-time against the Hurricanes (3-1), after going winless (0-4) vs. Miami since a 74-65 victory in 1994.
“This is a game we were expecting to win,” Cotton said. “This is something that I’ve been waiting for.”
Waiting wasn’t in the Bulls’ vocabulary Wednesday. Keyed by a pair of Aiya Shepard lay-ups, USF took a 10-0 lead in the first five minutes before two free throws from Chanivia Broussard got the Hurricanes on the scoreboard.
Two Jen Kline free throws extended USF’s lead to 13, 19-6. A 9-to-3 made it 22-15. Sonia Cotton’s jumper at 5:33 ended a five minute and 17 second Bulls scoring drought. Cotton and Shepard were devastating in the first half, combining for 24 of the Bulls’ 35 points. Cotton had team highs with 13 points and five rebounds at halftime.
“She was excited to play,” Fernandez said of Cotton. “This is a big game for both of us. I’ve known Sonia for a long time. We’ve lived all of our lives down there. You always hear Miami Hurricanes, Miami Hurricanes. It was a good win. Sonia really wanted to come out and play well, and she did.”
Cotton needed to play well to overcome the Bulls’ dreadful three-point shooting in the first half. The team was 1 of 13, with both Shepard and Kline going 0 for 4.
Even with a 7.7 three-point percentage in the first half, the Bulls held a 9-point lead, 35-26 at the half. The Bulls started strong in the second half, stretching their advantage to 11 at 41-30. A Shaquana Wilkins three-point play gave Miami its first lead at 46-45. Saake came alive in the second half with 13 after only two points prior to the break, leading the Canes on an 18-5 run to propel UM in front 48-45.
The Bulls finally turned the tide in less than a minute. A three-pointer from Kline followed by a Shepard steal and an AuBuchon three-pointer gave USF a commanding 65-57 lead with 5:12 left to play.
“We were going to keep shooting them,” Fernandez said. “That’s our strength. They weren’t falling, but at that crucial moment, Jen Kline hits one and we get a steal and Allison AuBuchon knocks one down. It’s a six-point turnaround, and all we have to do is go to the line and finish the game off. Those were two big shots.”
AuBuchon added a three-point play to apparently seal the game at the 3-minute mark with an offensive rebound and a three-point play, shifting the score to 71-61.
A pair of baskets from Sheila James kept life in the Hurricanes, cutting the deficit to five, 71-66, with 1:51 left. But the Hurricanes couldn’t keep the greedy hands of Dione Smith from snagging three steals inside of the last minute and Shepard was unflappable at the free-throw line at the end, connecting on 4 of 4.
“All of (the coaches) were on my case about reaching,” Smith said. “It’s a bad habit of mine, and I just knew if they got a basket because I didn’t rotate correctly, I was in trouble. The Lord put my hand in the right spot at the right time and the ball came out without a foul.”
- Anthony Gagliano covers women’s basketball and can be reached at email@example.com