Bulls try to regroup after loss in opener

USF had high expectations entering the 2009-10 season after winning the WNIT Championship in April.

But after losing their season opener 73-68 in overtime against Florida A&M (1-0) on Friday night at the Sun Dome, the Bulls realize they have a lot to work on to meet their preseason goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

Playing without head coach Jose Fernandez, who is still recovering from abdominal pains, USF (0-1) dropped its first season opener since 2002.

“(Friday) was a really tough loss to swallow,” said USF associate head coach Jeff Osterman. “Coach Fernandez has been in our thoughts and prayers all week, but we can’t use his absence as an excuse for the way we played.”

USF, which returned just six players from last season, received strong play from freshman guard Kaneisha Saunders, who finished with 14 points in her collegiate debut.

“The coaches asked me to step up to the plate and I did,” Saunders said. “I made some mistakes but I just need to learn from them and continue to play my game.”

Despite receiving double-doubles from center Jessica Lawson (14 points, 17 rebounds) and forward Melissa Dalembert (16 points, 11 rebounds), Osterman said he’d like to see a bit more around the basket.

“We are usually going to win when our two post players get off a total of 35 shots under the basket,” he said. “But they have to work on finishing, which is what they struggled with.”

Dalembert – who recorded her second career double-double Friday – said the Bulls will have to quickly forget about the loss. USF hosts Saint Peter’s College (1-0) tonight at 5.

“(FAMU) put a lot of pressure on us and forced us to do things we weren’t really used to,” Dalembert said. “But we are going to learn from our mistakes and will come back ready to play (tonight).”