No. 22 USF grits out 20th win

Though sophomore Kitija Laksa led the Bulls with 21 points, she said guard Laia Flores is the ‘heart of the team.’

No. 22 USF women’s basketball cruised to yet another AAC victory Sunday, keeping them securely in second place in the conference.

Spreading the wealth all afternoon, four Bulls starters scored double-digit points in the Bulls’ 66-56 victory over Tulane (15-10, 6-6) at the Sun Dome. 

With a possible trip to the NCAA tournament on the line, the Bulls understand the importance of playing for each other, and not just for themselves in order to be successful.

Guard Laia Flores is the perfect example of this. 

 Nursing a sprained ankle, Flores was on the bench for the entire first half against East Carolina last week. After seeing her team go down at the half, she stepped up and played the entire second half, despite her injury. 

Her efforts ultimately thrusted the Bulls to a 10-point victory in a game that Fernandez described as “must win.”

Still battling that injured ankle, Flores put her team before herself once again Sunday against Tulane, playing a full 40-minute game, and leading the Bulls to a win.

“I’m proud of Laia. She’s battling an injury, and she’s our only point guard because everybody else is hurt,” forward Kitija Laksa said. “She’s the heart of our team. She’s a playmaker and we need her. We’re proud of her, and we’re supporting her through (her injury.)”

When asked about her injured ankle after the game, Flores wasn’t concerned.

“It’s sore, but I’m fine. We won, so I’m fine,” she said.

Coach Jose Fernandez also commented on the chemistry between the girls, and the Bulls’ team mentality. 

“It’s a close-knit unit this group has. They care for one another, and have respect for one another,” Fernandez said. “When you’re playing for each other, for the guy next to you, that means a lot. That goes a long way.”

The Bulls hope their team play can carry them past the second weekend of March, and into the regional rounds of the NCAA tournament, a feat the USF women have fell just short of accomplishing the past two seasons.

“They talk about the disappointment of not making it past the second weekend the past two seasons. That’s something they’ve taken personal.” Fernandez said.

By earning the rank of a four seed or higher, the Bulls would be guaranteed to have the first two rounds of the tournament played in the Sun Dome, a place where the Bulls have lost only two games all season long. 

Laksa expressed her love for playing at home following Sunday’s win.

“It’s great to be home and finally play in front of our crowd again,” Laksa said. “The fans show a lot of support and we appreciate it because the atmosphere on the road is totally different. We love our fans.”

The Bulls look to keep their momentum rolling on Valentine’s Day for a ‘War on I-4 Showdown’ against the UCF Knights (15-9, 5-6) at 7 p.m.