USF wins close game in Memphis

Courtney Williams had her sixth straight 20-point game as USF defeated Memphis 57-53 Saturday. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

While people around the globe rang in the dawn of 2015 this past New Year’s, the Bulls were taking care of business on the court, romping Memphis by 33 at the Sun Dome. This weekend’s rematch was a much different story, with the Bulls escaping Memphis with a 57-53 victory.

USF (17-4, 8-1) headed to Memphis after winning six of its last seven games since the first meeting with the Tigers (11-10, 5-5). Having momentum on their side, the Bulls looked primed and ready for a second blowout victory against their AAC foe. 

The Tigers had another idea in mind. 

“(Ariel) Hearn was having a night,” junior guard Courtney Williams said. “It’s like every shot she threw up was going in. There’s not much we could do about that.” 

Memphis junior guard Ariel Hearn only shot 2-for-11 for five points in the teams’ first matchup earlier in the year. Saturday, she was much more effective, shooting 10-for-24 for 30 points, getting open looks all over the court and methodically tearing apart the Bulls’ defense. 

With Memphis pressuring USF down low, the Bulls had 11 turnovers in the first half and looked sluggish compared to other games in recent weeks. When the teams met earlier in the season, USF shot 50 percent from the field. This time, however, the Memphis defense held USF to just 36 percent Saturday. 

“We struggled under pressure a little bit,” Williams said. “The first half was not our finest play but I felt we came out in the second half, gained our composure and started to go off.”

Williams had her sixth consecutive game of 20 points or more, finishing the game with 20 points and nine rebounds. Her continued dominance, combined with the presence of junior forward Alisia Jenkins in the paint, proved to be too much for the Tigers in the second half. 

Jenkins had another double-double, with 11 points and 19 rebounds. 

USF out-rebounded Memphis 48-31, getting its focus back and committing only eight turnovers in the second half.

A set of crucial free throws by junior point guard Shalethia Stringfield late in the game proved to be the difference-maker. Knocking down the shots gave the Bulls a two possession lead and sealed their victory on the road.

“I think we just had to hunker down and keep our eyes on the prize,” Williams said. “We showed adversity. It was a tough game, but we got through it and walked away with the win.”