When USF sophomore guard Shalethia Stringfield was restrained by her teammates after getting fouled on her second layup in a four-second span, a steal between each, referees swarmed between the Knights and Bulls to make sure contact between players didn’t turn into more whistles.
USF coach Jose Fernandez insisted nothing his players did during their 89-54 win over UCF on Saturday at the Sun Dome was in response to any action taken against them by Knight fans during their previous meeting
“UCF isn’t our rivals for us,” Fernandez said. “We haven’t recruited against them before, so the stuff between UCF and South Florida, the conference, the I-4 corridor, has had nothing to do with our program. But I’m sure some of that stuff, at the end of the day, those kids are going to get jacked up and excited to play.”
By the time Stringfield made her two layups, the Bulls (13-10, 8-4) had jumped to a 30-point lead with 17:45 left. While the margin was substantial, USF’s first lead took seven minutes to form and another three minutes to hit double-digits. This start had Fernandez “disappointed.”
“We were down 4-2, we talked to our players about not having a letdown,” Fernandez said.”I thought our bench responded. “
The double-digit lead was sprouted by a 13-2 run after USF senior center Akila McDonald knocked down her first free throw about six minutes in.
Six of the team’s points during that run were scored by bench players such as freshman center Katelyn Weber and freshman guard Ariadna Pujol.
The 13-2 run was the result of a change in offensive strategy for the Bulls, who started the game playing a patient half-court offense. After they made only two of their first nine shots, the Bulls initiated a transition offense with players taking off down court immediately after rebounds while seeking an outlet pass for quick layups.
While UCF (9-14, 2-10) was able to get several USF players into foul trouble, Fernandez looked to his bench to finish out the game. Through the fouls, sophomore guard Courtney Williams led the team with her double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds against the Knights, who have never won in Tampa in 27 meetings.
Saturday’s matchup marked the second time in two weeks that every active player on the Bulls’ roster saw action in one game, as bench players chipped in 40 points.
“In a game where you are able to get out in front by so much, you want to reward those players,” Fernandez said. “Paige Cashin and Jayla King are walk-ons and they haven’t gotten the minutes, even Ivana (Vuletic).. But they’re doing the same thing, they’re working just as hard in the weight room, conditioning and practice.”
Pujol lead the bench with 16 points, the second-highest scoring effort of her career. Most of those points came with drives to the basket. This approach was different for the guard from Spain, who started the year with perimeter shooting.
The school record-tying 35-point margin of victory comes before a home matchup against No. 1 Connecticut on Sunday at 4 p.m.