Bulls bounce Houston 81-65, clinch No. 2 seed in AAC

Kitja Laksa finished with a game-high 32 points against Houston. ORACLE PHOTO/CHAVELI GUZMAN

USF (23-5, 12-2) hadn’t scored for two minutes and Houston (20-8, 9-5) capitalized to widen its lead.

Trailing 33-25 with just over three-and-a-half minutes remaining in the second quarter, Kitija Laksa let loose a fadeaway jumper. The Sun Dome was silent.

Every set of eyes was trained on the basketball as it made its way to the rim, falling gracefully through — electrifying the 2,223 in attendance.

The Bulls went on to score 15 more unanswered points as the second quarter came to a close and they entered the locker room leading 42-33. The Bulls then maintained their momentum and topped the Cougars 81-65, clinching the No. 2 seed in the AAC with two games remaining.

“We closed the half,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “Then we came out in the first three, four minutes of the third quarter too. That was good to see.”

USF scored just 16 points in the first quarter as they struggled to find any offensive rhythm.

“They were tough, but we came from the UCF game and it started the same way,” point guard Laia Flores said, referencing the Bulls 11-point first quarter against UCF on Sunday.         “We actually practiced that press the last two practices. So we knew what we were going to get. I just feel like they came and really pressed us, and we just need to make the right decisions, and we settled down and we were just fine.”

Flores scored seven points and had 11 assists, as well as five rebounds. She and guard Kitija Laksa played all 40 minutes.

“The beginning of the game was a struggle just because maybe we weren’t focused enough,” Laksa said. “We thought we were going to come in and get a W. It was all about focusing and just going hard. They go hard, we have to do the same.”

Laksa led the Bulls in scoring with 32 points. She added three rebounds and was 10-for-11 at the free-throw line, ending her streak of 33-in-a-row with a miss at the end of the first quarter.

The Bulls are currently on an eight-game winning streak and have two games left in the regular season. USF will host Cincinnati (17-10, 9-5) on Saturday for their senior night, then will travel to Storrs, Connecticut to face undefeated UConn (27-0, 14-0).

“I think Saturday is another game,” Laksa said. “We just have to take it day by day.”