Women’s basketball wins sixth straight to open season

Defense carried the women’s basketball team to victory during this weekend’s Best Western Roundball Classic Tournament.

A team known for its high powered offense, the Bulls 94-61 victory over St. Francis Saturday and Sunday’s 86-61 win against Massachusetts came at the hands of their swarming defense.

The Bulls (6-0) recorded 16 blocks, 17 steals and held their opponents to below 40 percent shooting from the field during the tournament.

USF leads the Big East with seven steals per game and rank second with 5.60 blocks per game.

“I’m not worried about scoring points, we’re going to score points,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “(Opponents) are going to have to score 80 (points) to beat us, so our defense is going to be so important.”

Center Stephanie Sarosi led the defensive effort with seven blocks in two games and in the finale against Massachusetts (5-1), Sarosi made each of her three 3-point attempts.

The Bulls ended the game with nine blocks and 11 steals while handing Massachusetts their first loss of the year.

Along with a tremendous defensive effort, the Bulls relied heavily on the play of their reserves.

“Everyone contributed today, we played 11 different (players) in the first half,” Fernandez said. “It’s pretty good (having the depth).”

Freshman Porche Grant has recorded 10 blocks in only 71 minutes played this year. Grant finished the weekend with three blocks. Her defensive presence has been noticed by her teammates.

“We call Porche ‘Big Bruiser’ because she comes in and does all the dirty work,” senior Jessica Dickson said. “She blocks shots, gets rebounds; she’s a big bruiser.”

Grant led the team with 11 rebounds including 10 in the first half, helping the Bulls to a 48-36 advantage on the glass.

“My role is to come in grab some rebounds and play hard defensively,” Grant said. “So I play hard and to you know, bruise people.”

Dickson struggled earlier this season while chasing the team’s all-time scoring record, but after breaking it against Stetson, Dickson returned to form during the teams’ 33 point victory in the tournament opener against St. Francis (1-3).

After shooting 16-53 in her previous three games, Dickson finished the night 8-15 from the field and 23 points.

“I’m glad to put those games behind me … I can relax and just have fun now,” Dickson said. “Getting back into the gym and shooting (extra shots) has really helped me get my rhythm back.”

Along with Dickson, the Bulls offense has been led by sophomore Shantia Grace. Against St. Francis, Grace scored 14 points, her low for the season, but still ranks sixth in the Big East in scoring average with 18.5 points per game.

With Dickson shooting well, Grace took a step back on the offensive end.

“My point guard sense was kicking up and when (Dickson) gets going my job is to get it to her,” Grace said. “If she’s missing some shots then I can pick up and score.”

The Bulls won their second tournament in as many weeks and Dickson was awarded with the MVP award after finishing with 38 points and 13 rebounds in two games.