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Bulls open C-USA play on the road vs. Blazers

The University of South Florida women’s basketball team opens its Conference USA schedule with a crucial road game against the UAB Blazers Sunday at 2 p.m. in Birmingham, Ala.

After playing a tough non-conference schedule with games against UConn, Georgia, Florida and Iowa State, the Bulls are ready to jump into conference play and start the second part of their season.

“Everybody starts 0-0 this weekend, so we’re looking forward to that,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.

The Bulls (5-8) are winless on the road this season, dropping all five contests.

But, more importantly, the Bulls are winless in Birmingham (0-15), including a 64-53 loss last season.

“In this league, night in and night out, it’s tough on the road,” Fernandez said.

“The UAB game is crucial for us. We need to get a win at UAB and, hopefully, go up to Marquette and DePaul and get one of those, then come back home.”

USF is currently on a two-game skid, including dropping six of the past seven games. The Bulls hope to bounce back into the win column against a Blazer team that has also struggled this season.

The Blazers (4-8) are the worst scoring team in C-USA, averaging 61.2 points a game. However, UAB does have three players averaging double digits, led by Natasha Thomas’ 17 points per game.

And the Bulls are no slouches on defense, which could give them an advantage. USF has the fourth-best field goal percentage defense in the conference, limiting opponents to just 37.2 percent from the floor.

But USF’s defense hasn’t been the problem this season. The difficulty has come on the offensive end, and the Bulls must improve if they want to make a run in the conference.

USF is the worst shooting team in the conference, making just 34.7 percent from the field. The Bulls are also last in three-point field goal percentage and free-throw percentage.

But Fernandez has seen some sparks from a few players in the past couple of games.

“Sonia Cotton, Aiya Shepard and Jameelah Trimble have come along rather nicely in the last week and a half,” he said.

Trimble pumped in a career-high 19 points in the Bulls’ game against Iowa State Sunday, while Cotton added 15. But Fernandez said the rest of the team must step up in order for USF to get back in the win column.

“We just need to have more people step up and more point production off the bench, especially from Jen Kline, Valerie (de Velasco), Alana Tanksley (and) Tristen Webb.”

Both Kline and de Velasco missed the first part of the season due to injuries. Both returned to action against Florida State in the Dodge Shootout, but neither has seemed comfortable since returning to the lineup.

After averaging 13.6 points per game as a freshman, Kline has only managed to score 4.3 ppg in seven games this season.

After scoring seven points in her collegiate debut against FSU, de Velasco has only managed to score nine points during the past six games.