Bulls charge to second round

After Saturday’s 73-64 win over LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the women’s basketball team moves on to round two tonight in the Sun Dome against Louisville. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Although junior guard Courtney Williams struggled to find the basket in USF’s opening round of the NCAA Tournament against LSU, her efforts proved to be enough to seal the Bulls’ fate as they advance to the second round — just the second time in school history — with a 73-64 victory over the 11th-seeded Lady Tigers. 

Shooting a dismal 7-of-25 from the field, Williams was far from her previous lights-out performances. Despite the struggles, the junior guard still managed to get a double-double, with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Even though Williams struggled with her shooting, she broke the USF record for most points scored in a season with 685 and passed fellow player Jessica Dickson’s 682.

One highlight of Williams’ performance was a corner jump shot on a fast break that put the sixth-seeded Bulls up by double digits with under five minutes in the first half against the Lady Tigers (17-14). Standing near the USF bench, coach Jose Fernandez erupted with excitement and lifted his hands in the air to get fans riled up. 

Fernandez jokingly said after the game that even though he tries to remain calm during games, moments like that give him the opportunity to get the crowd on his team’s side.

“It’s great,” he said. “Any time you can get the crowd behind you it’s awesome.”

Fernandez won’t have to worry about more fan support, as USF will likely have one of the largest crowds of the season tonight when No. 6 USF and No. 3 Louisville face off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

After their electric showing Saturday night culminated in a USF win, the Bulls are hoping to harness more of that energy for their second-round matchup with third-seeded Louisville tonight at 9 in the Sun Dome.

USF struggled to find the basket in the first round and shot just 37 percent on the night. The Bulls’ next opponent was much sharper in their tournament opener — the Cardinals got 46 percent of their looks to go down against BYU in their 86-53 win Saturday.

Despite Williams’ low scoring over the weekend, Louisville coach Jeff Walz expects her to show up ready to play tonight. 

“You’d be fooling yourself if you didn’t think Courtney was the best player on the floor for both teams,” Walz said. “No offense to my kids, but we know we have our hands full tomorrow.” 

USF sophomore point guard Laura Marcos Canedo also had high praise for Williams as she said the team simply revolves around her energy and her high level of play.  

“She’s a great player,” Canedo said. “Every night she’s going to come out and play her best. She has shown that it doesn’t matter what kind of defense they throw at her, she is going to overcome it.” 

Both USF and Louisville are nearly even in points per game, rebounds per game, field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage, with USF maintaining a slight edge in rebounds and 3-point shots by fewer than two better than the Cardinals. 

These teams also match up well down low, with USF forward Alisia Jenkins facing Louisville forward Mariya Moore, who averages nearly 14 points and five rebounds each game. Jenkins outmatches Moore on the boards and averages nearly 12 rebounds per game. 

Louisville’s starting guard Jude Schimmel contributed 13 points and three rebounds against BYU, but the help off the bench from senior guard Bria Smith was the physical presence the Cardinals needed to put the nail in the Cougars’ coffin. 

Smith came away with 11 points and seven steals in 24 minutes of play. She said this game could possibly come down to the final shot attempt and maintaining their play for the entire game is crucial to victory. 

“We just know it’s going to be a 40-minute game. It’s going to take all 40 minutes for us to stay focused, stay with our game plan,” Smith said. “We are already prepared for it, we are just getting our mind right and we are just excited to get out there.” 

Even with Williams’ teammates praising her accomplishments, she is focused on the team’s effort tonight more than anything. Although a win would send the Bulls into the Sweet 16 for the first time in USF women’s basketball history, Williams isn’t shying away from the pressure of the NCAA Tournament. 

“I think our mindset has to be intense, so it’s like we have to take advantage of every moment,” she said. “We can’t take this for granted.” 

As was the case with USF’s first-round game, the first 500 USF students with their student IDs will receive free admission to the game. Students are directed to go to Gate D for entry.

Tonight, student tickets are $8 and non-student tickets are $18. Parking in the Sun Dome lot is free and gates open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be bought at the gate or on Ticketmaster.com.