There was a moment when the USF women’s basketball team’s prospects for a win didn’t appear strong Monday night.
The Bulls led for most of the first half, but a string of Stetson 3-pointers gave the visitors a 35-34 lead at halftime. USF came out of the locker room shooting cold, as the Hatters (5-2) increased their lead to seven.
That’s when the Bulls unleashed a 19-2 scoring run and eased to a comfortable 77-62 win at the Campus Recreation Center.
“We knew we were going to get tested tonight and we did,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “I like how our team responded in the second half. We went to our bench and went on a 9-0 run to erase a seven-point deficit.”
Junior guard Kaneisha Saunders led the second-half charge, scoring four straight points to tie the game at 45-45. She then extended her personal run to six points, giving the Bulls (5-3) the lead for good. Saunders finished with 19 points on the night after just four points in the first half and was one of four Bulls to reach double figures.
“First half, coach came and told me I was being real passive,” Saunders said. “I let the game come to me, but I saw that my team needed me to step up and make big shots … and that’s what I did in the second half.”
Fernandez credited his team for sticking with the game plan, even when it fell behind.
“We wanted to control the paint … and we wanted to be under 15 turnovers for the game,” Fernandez said. “Basketball’s not a very complicated game. You need to take care of the basketball, and you have to limit unforced turnovers.”
The Bulls achieved both goals, outscoring the Hatters 38-12 in the paint, primarily because of sophomore center Akila McDonald’s 14 points. Junior center Caitlin Rowe added another eight. After 10 first-half turnovers, the Bulls took better care of the ball, giving it up only four times in the second half.
The Bulls’ leading scorer on the night was senior guard Jasmine Wynne, who shot 7-of-11 in the first half with 16 points. She finished with 22.
With the win, the Bulls improved to 3-0 at home and have scored at least 72 points in each of those games.
“It’s definitely a shooter’s gym,” Fernandez said. “I’ve talked to these guys and they enjoy the atmosphere – the cheerleaders, the band, the fans are right on top of you. I’ll tell you what: if we pack this place, it’ll be a great homecourt advantage.”
A week after returning from Anchorage, Alaska, another long trip awaits the Bulls as they head to Colorado Springs, Colo., to play in the Air Force Classic. The Bulls play Idaho State on Friday before lining up against host Air Force on Saturday.