Lawson gets sixth year

Center Jessica Lawson has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will return to the USF women’s basketball team next year, coach Jose Fernandez announced Wednesday.

The Bulls lost six seniors from last year’s team, which won the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) for the first time in program history.

Lawson, listed at 6-foot-3, averaged 10.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game despite battling a lingering knee injury that prevented her from practicing toward the end of the season.

A native of Orlando, Lawson transferred to USF in 2006 after two years at the University of California, where she sat out her sophomore season with a knee injury. She sat out the 2006-07 season with the Bulls because of NCAA transfer rules.

“We are thrilled to get Jessica back for a sixth year,” Fernandez said in a statement. “With the recruiting class that we have coming in for the 2009-10 season, along with the returning players from the WNIT Championship team, getting an experienced and consistent post player like (Lawson) back will help our inside game considerably.”

Fernandez signed a nine-player class this offseason, which is ranked No. 35 nationally by the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.

USF lost 6-foot-3 center Brittany Denson, but returns 6-foot-2 senior Porche Grant in the post.

The Bulls finished the season with a school-best 27-10 record. Despite an 8-8 record in the Big East, they were left out of the NCAA tournament, but earned a first round bye in the WNIT.

USF then defeated Florida Gulf Coast, Mississippi, St. Bonaventure, Boston College and Kansas en route to the WNIT title.