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Bulls soar over Eagles

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The USF women’s basketball team continued its recent rampage with a suffocating 68-47 win over No. 12-seeded Southern Miss in the opening round of the C-USA women’s basketball tournament on Thursday.

Forcing the inexperienced Golden Eagles into a tournament-record 36 turnovers, the No. 5 Bulls (20-9) won their first C-USA Tournament game since 2000 and will face TCU today at 3:30 p.m.

“We came out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “On the defensive end, we did everything we needed to do.”

Despite struggling a bit offensively in the first half, USF held Southern Miss to 12 points on 12.5 percent shooting and led 29-12 at the break. It was the ninth time this season the Bulls held their opponent under 20 points in the first half.

“That’s really our strength,” said Fernandez, who won his first C-USA Tournament game since taking over in 2001.

“Defensively, in the half court, we do a pretty good job because we’re so quick on the perimeter.”

Southern Miss gave USF a small scare late in the game with a 9-0 run that cut the lead to 12. But the Bulls countered with a 7-0 run of their own to finally put down the Golden Eagles for good.

With the fiesty Rachael Sheats on the prowl, the Bulls used their superior speed to pressure Southern Miss into defeat, despite shooting 38.8 percent from the floor and 54.2 percent from the free-throw line.

Sheats finished with 14 points to go along with seven rebounds and five steals.

Sophomore center Nalini Miller also had 14 points and Jessica Dickson added 12.

Saying she “felt great,” Miller had her most productive game since returning from a hamstring injury Feb. 14. During her absence, the Bulls went 3-5.

USF has now won six straight games by an average margin of 13.7 points.

“We’re playing good basketball now and everybody is healthy,” Fernandez said.