Williams shines in opening-round victory

USF advanced to the Round of 32 after a 48-45 win over Colorado State. The Bulls will play UCLA at 9 p.m. on Monday.

Any time the USF women’s basketball team has needed a shot to fall this season, senior guard Courtney Williams has delivered. As the Bulls’ leading scorer in three out of her four years, it was expected that her high-caliber scoring efforts would continue in the national spotlight.

In the Bulls’ NCAA tournament opener against 11th-seeded Colorado State (31-2) Friday night, she did just that, pouring in a USF tournament-record 31 points in a 48-45 win in Los Angeles, CA.

Off the hands of Williams, USF snapped its 22-game drought against ranked teams, advancing to the Round of 32 to face third-seeded UCLA on Monday night at 9 p.m.

“I was told by my uncle, he told me basically when you get in a zone like that it’s such a fragile place to be in,” said Williams, who took 20 more shots than the any other Bull. “Anything can take you out of that zone, so you’ve got to just stay focused. That’s what I tried to do.”

Williams was benched for the first five minutes of the game for what was deemed a “coach’s decision,” but she erupted upon entering the game, outscoring the Rams 25-22 over the ensuing 2 1/2 quarters.

“My freshman year, I actually came off the bench,” Williams said of the change. “I was the sixth man my freshman year. So it took me back to my freshman year and I brought that energy.”

USF started off sluggish with CSU opening on a 10-0 run, but USF (24-9) responded with a 12-0 run of its own, later in the second quarter and trailed 25-24 at the half. 

But it was far from an efficient half with the Bulls shooting 25 percent (7-for-27).

USF held a 46-34 lead — its largest of the night — late in the fourth quarter, but the Rams fought back with an 11-2 run. That run was capped off with a 3-pointer by CSU’s Hannah Tvrdy to trim USF’s lead to three, but the Bulls held on as a last-second heave by the Rams rimmed out.

“We’re lucky to get out of here. We’ve had 48 at halftime (before),” said assistant coach Jeff Osterman on the Bulls’ radio broadcast. “We came out a little bit tight and missed some stuff, and luckily (Williams) carried us a little bit.

“We used our luck card up tonight and we’ve got to play a lot better against UCLA.”

If USF has aspirations of making its first Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history, Osterman said Williams can’t do it alone.

“We’ve got to score,” Osterman said. “It can’t be Courtney Williams with 31 and the rest of us kind of clapping.”