Bulls maul Panthers, win second straight

The USF women’s basketball team earned another non-conference victory Thursday, beating in-state rival Florida International University 84-56 in Miami.

The victory gives USF back-to-back wins for the first time this season, and gives coach Jose Fernandez a 4-0 career record against his alma mater.

The Bulls (4-2) and the Golden Panthers (1-5) played evenly through the first 10 minutes of the game. FIU kept the game close, with USF holding a 34-31 lead late in the first half.

The Bulls, led by junior guard Shantia Grace, closed out the first half on a 13-0 run. USF took a 46-31 lead into the half, and the game would never get any closer than that.

“I think we played really well today,” Fernandez said. “We were just playing so well offensively.”

The Bulls’ offensive production was one of their sharpest of the season. USF shot 42 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point territory.

Grace, who led all scorers with 29 points, set a new career high on the night. She surpassed her previous best of 26 – which she set against FIU last year – on the strength of a 20-point first half. She also added six assists.

Two other Bulls scored in double figures: junior Jazmine Sepulveda with 13 points and senior forward ChiChi Okpaleke with 16 points and six rebounds.

“I think Shantia Grace had a great offensive night,” Fernandez said. “And I think ChiChi played her best game of the year.”

One player who had a tough time in Miami was junior Jessica Lawson. Coming into the game as the Bulls’ leading scorer, Lawson got into foul trouble early. She had limited playing time after picking up two quick fouls at the beginning of the first half.

Lawson scored just eight points – only half of her season average. Despite having a low-scoring game, she was able to pull down eight rebounds to lead USF.

USF also continued to play smarter. After committing 83 turnovers in their first four games, the Bulls had only 10 against FIU. USF has only turned the ball over 18 times during its span of back-to-back wins.

The Bulls’ next three games are at home. On Saturday, USF will host Saint Peter’s Peahens (5-1) at 4:30 p.m.

Fernandez was excited about the victory over FIU, but realizes that the Peahens are a tough opponent.

“We’ve just got to get back and get back to work,” Fernandez said. “We’ve got practice tomorrow, then Saint Peter’s coming in, and they’re 5-1 right now. We know that we need to take these one at time.”