Perhaps USF is back to its form from late last season when it captured the school’s first postseason championship.
After dropping two of its first three this season, the women’s basketball team has won three straight, including two this weekend to capture the Courtyard by Marriott Thanksgiving Classic in Los Angeles.
“Our team defended a lot better over the weekend,” said USF coach Jose Fernandez. “They had something to play for and showed perseverance and a great will to win. I’m very proud of them right now.”
Freshman guard Kaneisha Saunders’ 21 points led USF (4-2) to a 63-53 victory over Montana (1-5) on Friday, and the Bulls defeated Loyola Marymount 77-71 in overtime Saturday to win the title.
Senior Melissa Dalembert scored a career-high 22 points in the final to earn the tournament’s MVP award.
“I just worked hard running the floor, played good defense and finished strong at the basket,” Dalembert said. “We really came together as a team during this tournament.”
The Bulls never trailed in their win over Montana, using a quick start to cruise to their second consecutive victory.
The championship game was different, however, as Loyola Marymount (3-3) battled USF until the final seconds.
The Lions took a 38-34 advantage into halftime, but with 29 seconds remaining, senior Jessica Lawson had two free-throws with the Bulls down by one.
She made the first but missed the second, and it went to overtime where the Bulls rolled to victory.
“The girls grew up a lot this weekend,” Fernandez said. “To go on the west coast and beat two quality opponents is big for our program.”
The Bulls round out their four-day trip on the west coast at 8 tonight at UC Irvine (1-4).