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Fernandez returns; USF tops St. Peter’s

After opening the season with a disappointing loss to Florida A&M, the USF women’s basketball team needed a spark to jump-start its morale.

Getting coach Jose Fernandez back after an unexpected illness did the trick, as the Bulls (1-1) overcame a halftime deficit and scored 60 second-half points to defeat St. Peter’s (1-1) 88-72 Monday night at the Sun Dome.

“We had no idea (coach Fernandez) was going to be here (Monday),” said senior center Jessica Lawson. “When we first saw him, our faces lit up. He is such a big part of this team and was definitely our spark tonight.”

Fernandez missed USF’s opener after being hospitalized with abdominal pains. He was back leading the Bulls, who upped their offensive tempo late, erasing a three-point deficit at halftime and outscoring St. Peter’s 60-41 in the
second half.

“I feel extremely tired and I haven’t eaten in a week,” Fernandez said. “It’s definitely not a good way to diet. I was happy with the way we played in the second half tonight, but we must get better in the next two months to be effective in the Big East. We are dealing with the effects of a lot of inexperienced players, but our defense absolutely has to improve.”

Lawson, who was limited to just four first-half points in five minutes because of foul trouble, gave the Bulls her own spark with 20 second-half points.

“I’m just trying to take on more of a leadership role,” Lawson said. “I wasn’t necessarily trying to score the ball every time, but I got some good looks and capitalized.”

Senior guard Janae Stokes also had a huge game for USF, coming off the bench to make seven three-point baskets en route to her team-high 25 points.

“The coaches tell me to shoot the ball anytime I have an opening,” Stokes said. “I know that I’m not going to get as many looks further down the road so I have to improve my ball handling skills and defense to make up for that.”

Freshman guard Kaneisha Saunders followed her impressive USF debut with an even better effort, scoring 20 points and grabbing four rebounds. Saunders had 14 points against FAMU.

The Bulls will play at Wake Forest (2-0) on Wednesday at 5 p.m.