Harvey shines in dominant Bulls performance

Junior guard Sydni Harvey led the way for USF with 22 points in Thursday night’s blowout win against Alabama State. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/WILL TURNER, 247 SPORTS

The chants of “Sydni Harvey” from the student section grew louder and louder in the Yuengling Center as the junior guard led USF women’s basketball to a dominant 72-37 win over Alabama State on Thursday.

Harvey put in a complete performance for the No. 21 ranked Bulls (2-0) as she took over the game from tipoff. She scored 19 of her 22 points in the first half, including 16 in the first quarter on perfect shooting from three-point range. 

“I love hearing that chant,” Harvey said. “My teammates are always doing it like we might be in practice, Shae [Leverett] did it in the locker room. I think it just flows.”

While she sat for most of the final 20 minutes, Harvey’s early effort had USF in a comfortable position for the majority of the contest.

“I think my teammates just found me and coach ran some stuff [for me], so he had confidence in me,” she said.

The Bulls looked much more like the team that was touted as one of the best in the nation after a lackluster season-opening win against UTRGV on Tuesday. They jumped out to a 25-point halftime lead and never looked back.

Coach Jose Fernandez was particularly proud of his team’s performance on the defensive end of the floor as they held the Hornets (0-2) to 22% shooting from the field and 30% from three-point range while also forcing 23 turnovers. The Bulls scored 29 points off those takeaways, compared to zero from Alabama State.

“I’m much more pleased,” Fernandez said. “I thought we defended the ball on the side a lot better than we did the other day. I didn’t like that we gave up two threes on two baseline out of bounds [plays] and a transition three on the left side of the floor. We need to cut that kind of stuff out. 

“I told our guys I’m not coaching for here, I’m coaching for March and we just got to make sure every possession on both ends of the floor we got to fix this stuff now.”

Harvey emphasized the need of playing up to the potential of the Bulls’ top-25 ranking after Tuesday’s win, she felt Thursday’s game was a much better reflection of who this team is.

“I think day-by-day we’re getting there,” Harvey said. “And each game we’re going to improve every single time.”

In addition to the win, Thursday was also a special night for the program as former star guard Courtney Williams was honored pregame as an inductee to the USF Athletics Hall of Fame class of 2020. 

WIlliams was inducted alongside former tennis player Jeff Davis and track and field jumper Matthew O’Neal. 

One of the best players in program history, Williams ranks second all-time in points scored (2,304), games played (138), third in rebounds (931), seventh in blocks (93) and ninth in assists (318). She also set USF’s single-season scoring record in 2016 with 763 points, breaking her own mark of 710 that she set the previous season.

“She was special here,” Fernandez said of Williams. “She was an All-American and a Scholar Athlete of the Year and had a really good career here.”

USF now enters the most daunting part of its nonconference schedule with several games against top-25 opponents on the docket, starting with No. 15 Tennessee. Before possibly taking on four of the top-10 teams in the country including No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 UConn and defending national champions No. 3 Stanford.

“I think it’s always exciting when you get to go against the top people in the country,” Harvey said. “And I think we’re all just excited, ready for the challenge and we’re going to take it day by day and just go from there.”

The Bulls and Volunteers will tip off Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Knoxville at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will be televised on SECN+ and broadcast on Bulls Unlimited 2.