Women’s basketball stumbles in non-conference play, wins first AAC game

USF Women's basketball won its first conference game after losing three consecutive games to non-conference opponents. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

USF women’s basketball is off to a 10-5 start this season after going 3-3 in the month of December before opening up AAC play with a victory on Saturday.

The Bulls began December with three-straight victories at home against George Washington, Grambling State and Vermont. USF then dropped three-straight games to end the calendar year, falling to Creighton and Virginia at the Florida Sunshine Classic in Winter Park before losing to LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Dec. 30.

USF began its conference schedule with a 63-53 win at Temple on Saturday. Freshman Sydni Harvey led the way with 19 points, while senior Laura Ferreira scored 16. A pair of Bulls — Alyssa Rader and Shae Leverett — scored 10 each.

The Bulls were a force on the boards against the Owls, collecting 57 rebounds, with 26 of them coming offensively. Enna Pehadzic led the way with 13 rebounds, while Leverett earned her second double-double of the season by collecting 10 rebounds.

“We haven’t been in a position that we’re in right now, with five losses, going into league play for a long time,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “Right now, it’s a situation where we’ve just got to continue to get better in practice, individually and collectively, do a great job in preparing for games and bring our young guys along.”

Excluding injured senior Kitija Laksa, who sustained a torn ACL in the third game of the season, Harvey was second on the team in points per game during non-conference play with 13.1, behind only Ferreira. Pehadzic posted six-straight games in double-figures scoring to close non-conference play.

“I like her confidence,” Fernandez said of Pehadzic. “But what I like about Enna is the time that she’s invested. She’s put in time and now the rewards of her working on her game and spending extra time shooting, she’s seeing it come to fruition with how she’s playing on the floor.”

USF will continue AAC play shorthanded after losing Beatriz Jordao to a season-ending leg injury. The freshman center averaged 11.3 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game and was twice named the AAC Freshman of the Week. Jordao only played nine minutes against LSU, her last game before being sidelined.

The Bulls were able to add some help with the addition of five-star recruit Luize Septe to their roster in advance of the LSU game. The native of Ventspils, Latvia, signed a letter of intent during the offseason, but had been unable to join the roster until December. While in Latvia, Septe played for TTT Riga, the same club Laksa played for before joining USF in 2015.

“She’s going to help us playing minutes because of her versatility,” Fernandez said. “She’s a big wing and can also play the stretch four.”

Next up for USF is a War on I-4 matchup against UCF on Tuesday at the Yuengling Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.