When the game clock hit zero, the sixth-seeded USF bench gleamed with a mix of smiles and laughter. For only the second time in program history, the Bulls are moving on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
LSU (17-14) played closely the entire game, but the bench support from the Bulls proved too much for the Lady Tigers, as the Bulls won 73-64. USF’s reinforcements outscored the Tigers’ bench 26-15. USF freshman forward Maria Jespersen was perfect from the field, shooting 5-for-5 with 10 points and six rebounds.
Junior guard Courtney Williams struggled to find good shots throughout the game, going just 7-for-25 from the field, but still ended up finishing as the Bulls’ leading scorer with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Early on in the first half, Williams reached a career-total of 1,500 points, making her only the sixth player in USF basketball history to reach this milestone. Later in the game, Williams broke the USF record for most points scored in a single season with 685 points. Despite the achievements, Williams said her focus was on the solid play from the rest of the team instead of individual accolades.
“We got great energy early on from the bench,” Williams said. “Fortunately my teammates stepped up tonight and helped us get the victory.”
LSU’s forwards Shelia Boykin and Anne Pedersen weren’t ready for the physical presence of Alisia Jenkins and Laura Ferreira down low.
Jenkins was limited in the first half after two early fouls, which kept her out of the final nine minutes before halftime. Even with the minutes restriction, Jenkins helped the Bulls (27-7) grind out and overcome the Tigers comeback efforts, with 15 points and eight rebounds of her own. USF out-rebounded LSU 45-42, also limiting the Tigers to just nine second-chance points.
Coach Jose Fernandez said the home court advantage was a huge boost in morale for the team from start to finish. This game saw the season’s highest attendance in the Sun Dome with over 5,500 fans coming out in to show their support.
“The atmosphere in the arena tonight was just incredible,” Fernandez said. “We’ve got through the first one but now we’ve got to get to work and get ready for Monday night.”
USF will host the third-seeded Louisville Cardinals on Monday at 9 p.m. in the Sun Dome, looking to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.