USF took a tough loss to its starting lineup last week when Kitija Laksa suffered a season-ending injury.
The Bulls (4-0) took on Oklahoma (2-1) at home Sunday and showed out for their fans with an 87-70 victory over the Sooners. Knowing their team was down a player, the Bulls put their depth on full display.
“I think collectively as a team we came together, it’s extremely hard and we are so very emotional about what happened to [Laksa].” Alyssa Rader said. “She is a great teammate and an amazing player to play with, and we are here for her…Defensively we will stay the same, but offensively everyone had to step up.”
What seemed to be a slow start for USF in the first quarter was turned around after a timeout. Allowing Oklahoma to go on an 10-2 run within the first few minutes of the game, the Bulls found their rhythm after the timeout.
Senior Laura Ferreira and freshman Sydni Harvey took the reins for the team offensively. Ferreira knew she had an obligation as a senior to lead her team. Going into halftime Ferreira lead the team with 13 points and Harvey right behind her with 10 points.
Rader helped keep the Bulls in the game by preventing Oklahoma to get many second chances at shots. She recorded a team-high 11 rebounds Sunday.
“We need to get more off the board, we needed to come and crash. It helped when we would go on runs, because it builds confidence,” Rader said. “As a team we kept rolling through it, you get a stop you get a shot.”
Ending the first half with a lead of eight points, the Bulls struggled to keep their high-tempo offense going at the start of the second. Immediately, they allowed Oklahoma to rally back and tie the game early in the third quarter.
Determined to stay in the game, the team leaned on Ferreira to step up for the offense. She continued to deliver, as she drained a three-pointer to start off the third and put up three more buckets right after.
“I made the first shot, so I felt really confident. But I felt as a team everyone was sharing the ball and whenever I was open I would take the shot,” Ferreira said. “If I missed, they were going to get the rebound, we were just confident and playing together.”
Rader showed out in the last 12 minutes of the game, scoring before the buzzer at the end of the third quarter and continued to express her dominance of the floor in the fourth quarter, finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists.
“I thought [Rader] did a good job on the glass, I think she was very assertive when we moved it through her,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “When we have a rising in her in the high post when she can put it on the floor and get to the rim, it creates a new dimension for us.”
The Bulls know they will continue to face obstacles with their star player out for the season, but they feel that they are still a force to be reckoned with. Especially after a season high for Ferreira, finishing with 34 points, and having Rader finish with a double-double.
“I think the biggest key was we were able to play those four post players and we did such a great job on the glass. [Ferreira] had a phenomenal performance tonight, but I think she did an even better job on the defensive end,” Fernandez said. “We’re just going to be a different team without [Laksa] on the floor. We have to change some things on the offensive end on what we run. Defensively I think we did a good job of keeping people in front of us and not fouling. Good team win, but we have to get back to work tomorrow.”