Bulls’ home winning streak to be tested by No. 9 Louisville on Sunday

Sophomore forward Kitija Laksa has helped lead USF to a 15-2 record behind her 20.6 points per game. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Just 12 days after sustaining the worst loss in program history, the USF women’s basketball team faces yet another NCAA tournament litmus test with No. 9 Louisville coming to the Sun Dome on Sunday afternoon.

“Last Tuesday wasn’t indicative of what our program is, or what this team was about,” coach Jose Fernandez said following the Bulls’ 79-49 victory over Memphis on Tuesday.

Starting the season 13-1 for only the second time in the program’s 45-year history, the Bulls (15-2, 4-1) statistically echo their head coach’s sentiments as one of the most efficient and high-scoring teams in the country.

Led by sophomore forward Kitija Laksa’s 20.6 points per game, No. 23 USF sits 27th in the country in scoring, averaging 76.4 points per game. The Bulls also rank in the top 15 nationally in rebound margin (5th) and free-throw percentage (15th).

A team with similar scoring, the Cardinals (16-4,4-2) come to the Sun Dome as the 24th ranked offense in the country (77 points per game). 

Although the two teams match up similarly on paper, USF junior forward Maria Jespersen said the Bulls stack up well with their AAC foe.

“I think we have some match-up advantages,” Jespersen said.

“They have two really big kids that are good at posting up, but that also means they have to guard some perimeter players, which they probably don’t prefer.”

The difference Sunday may come at the 3-point line, as Louisville comes as 135th in 3-point field goal percentage, surrendering over 30 percent from beyond the arc.

Louisville comes winning 10 of their last 12 games after a 78-72 loss to Maryland in the AAC-Big 10 Challenge.

It was following this game that Louisville coach Jeff Walz called out “participation trophies,” and called his team in short words “losers.”

“I mean, not to be too blunt, but you’re a loser,” Walz said.

“Like, we’re losers, we got beat. So you lost. There is no trophy for us.”

Despite boasting three double-digit scorers, the Cardinals are undoubtedly led by junior forward and reigning AAC Player of the Year Myisha Hines-Allen.

Picking up right where she left off last season, Hines-Allen is averaging nearly a double-double this season with 13 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

Guard Mariya Moore and forward Asia Durr round out the top scorers for Louisville, averaging 12.8 and 17.1 points per game, respectively.

The Bulls ride a 13-game home winning streak coming into their top 25 matchup with the Cardinals. 

Their last loss at home dates over a year to Jan. 10, 2016, when USF fell to a Breanna Stewart-led UConn team. The last Bulls’ loss at the Sun Dome before that was a 60-52 loss in the second round of the 2015 NCAA tournament to Louisville.

Tip-off Sunday is slated for  2 p.m., with coverage nationally broadcast on ESPN.