USF dominates UCF on defense, downs Knights 62-45

Last season, UCF defeated USF in the Sun Dome for the first time ever with a score of 66-62. In the loss, USF allowed UCF’s Aliyah Gregory to score 34 points. On Sunday, she recorded four. THE ORACLE/CHAVELI GUZMAN

After a bounce-back win against Temple on Wednesday night, USF women’s basketball (14-4, 4-1) was able to extend its winning streak to two with a 62-45 win against UCF (11-7, 3-2) Sunday afternoon at the Sun Dome.

The win gave USF sole possession of second place in the AAC standings, trailing only an  undefeated No. 1 UConn.

The story of the game for the Bulls was defense as USF held the Knights to only 14 points in the first half. 

“I thought we played really good team defense,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “We held them to one shot and out.”

In addition to defense, USF was a force on the boards, bringing down 48 total rebounds, 31 of them defensively. The Knights finished the game with 30 total rebounds.

In addition to being an important conference matchup, Sunday’s game was a bit of a revenge game for the Bulls. The last time the two teams met, UCF handed USF their first loss in the series between the schools since Dec. 10, 1980 and was UCF’s first win in Tampa all-time. 

The loss, at the time, also pushed USF out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time all season.

“It feels really good (to beat UCF),” senior guard Laia Flores said. “We waited a year to get this game back and I think we really prepared and practiced. We tried to do different things than we did last year and it turned out good.”

In the game last season, then-junior guard Aliyah Gregory led all scorers with 34 points. On Sunday, the Bulls were able to hold her to just four points thanks to the man-to-man defense of senior guard Laura Ferreira.

“We knew if Gregory didn’t have a good game, that was good for us,” Flores said. “[Ferreira] did a really good job.”

Offensively, the Bulls were led by three scorers in double-figures. Junior guard Kitija Laksa led all scorers with 16 points. Senior forward Maria Jespersen and Flores would finish with 13 and 14 points respectively. 

“We definitely wanted to get inside-outside action,” sophomore Alyssa Rader said. “Especially with the abilities that we have on this team to shoot threes … to be able to get the ball in and distract them for a second.”

The win gave USF three points in the War on I-4 series between the two schools. UCF currently leads the annual competition 21-12.

“I think everybody makes the UCF-USF rivalry bigger than it is,” Fernandez said. “I think it was great what both athletic departments did with the War on I-4. But we’re playing for a different deal. I think our kids remember, last year, losing those two in a row at home. Losing to [UCF] and then coming back and losing to Temple.”

Up next for USF is a trip to Memphis on Wednesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.