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USF relies on pair of seniors in win over UNF

The USF women’s basketball team has nine newcomers, and its seniors know leadership is a necessity for a team that still has postseason aspirations.

USF (2-2) relied on its leadership Saturday night, when seniors Jessica Lawson and Janae Stokes led the Bulls to a 62-48 victory against North Florida at the Sun Dome.

“It is extremely important on a young team for the seniors to lead by example,” Lawson said. “I have been much more vocal this season than in the past because we have such a young group of girls.”

Lawson had 14 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots, while Stokes came off the bench to score 13 points.

While the offense struggled to find its rhythm for most of Saturday night’s contest, USF’s defense held North Florida to 14 first-half points.

“We were not impressive shooting the ball tonight,” said USF coach Jose Fernandez. “We had good looks but we just have to make those shots. I thought our defense played very well in the first half, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.”

The Bulls led by as many as 16 in the first half, but North Florida (0-3) climbed back into the game and took a 31-30 lead on a layup by Margaret Bell with 10 minutes remaining in the game.

Then, with the score tied at 33, Stokes reeled off eight straight points during a two-minute stretch to put USF in control.

“(Stokes) was our spark tonight,” Lawson said. “She is such a huge factor for our team because she spreads the defense out so much. She can hit the three-pointer at any moment, so it really keeps the defenders honest.”

Lawson, who’s in her sixth year, said the Bulls have a lot of learning to do, but the team can reach its potential with enough effort.

“We need to get better at going on long scoring runs,” she said. “It will come. We play immature at times, but we are still learning. We will get better with experience.”