Bulls head into WNIT Semis with fourth-straight win


When Courtney Williams emphatically pounded her chest upon completing a layup off a mid-air pass from Inga Orekhova with 4:41 left in the first half against George Washington on Friday, it was the start of an offensive effort that helped USF pull away and earn a 59-74 victory.

A sophomore guard, Williams had more reason to celebrate after hitting the game-winning shot against Mississippi State on Sunday with 4.2 seconds left in the fourth round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). 

Despite accumulating four fouls, she was able to control her dribble across the court and hit a contested 3-pointer to win the game in Sarkville, Miss., 60-58.

“Coach (Jose Fernandez) drew up the ball where I circled around and he just told me, ‘you’ve got four seconds to score,’ so I took the four seconds and I did my best,” Williams said. “I knew I had to score or we were going to lose, so I had to be confident.”

After the Bulls created a six-point lead with two minutes left in the game by a second half scoring effort from Shaleth Stringfield and Orekhova, the Bulldogs went on an 8-1 run produced by missed shots from USF and two turnovers.

Williams joined three other teammates Sunday with double digit scoring efforts including Sringfield with a career high 20 points, Orekhova (15), and Alisia Jenkins (12).

The Bulls had more highlight plays against George Washington at home  Friday, where the Orekhova-to-Williams alley-oop connection generated the first double-digit lead of the game.

The 24 points Williams led the team with included contested pull up jumpers and challenged drives to the basket.

Fernandez also attributed the win to what the team did on the other side of the court.

“It came down to the glass and how we rebounded,” he said.  “We did a good job taking care of the basketball.”

George Washington’s 6-foot-4 forward Jonquel Jones was a key target for the Bulls in the paint, where they limited her to nine rebounds.  Two Bulls, 6-foot-1 Jenkins and 5-foot-8 Williams, were both able to earn three more rebounds than Jones.

“Coach told us defense is going to be a big part of this game,” Williams said.  “He said if we stopped Jones and (Danni) Jackson, we would be able to take them out of the flow of their game. I think we took that personally.”

Jackson, George Washington’s point guard, did not successfully score any of her four three-point attempts and finished the game with a team fourth-best eight points.

“I was proud of this group,”  Fernandez said.  “They did a very good job.”

Orekhova was able to find an layup opportunity of her own to score on with 38 seconds left. After senior center Akila McDonald grabbed the team’s 56th rebound of that game, she connected with Orekhova in mid air. The play had the 1,231 attendees cheering resulting in a 17-point lead, the largest of the game.

As usual though, it all comes down to not being in the Big Dance.

“We are trying to prove everybody wrong,” Orekhova said.  “We were supposed to be in the NCAA tournament. Every game we play, we have that killer mentality.”

The Bulls will find out today whether they play Rutgers or Bowling Green in the WNIT semifinals and whether or not they will host.