Fernandez, USF looking for “best moment” ahead of UCLA

USF women’s basketball found a way to defeat Colorado State 48-45 during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, a victory that gets them to a round they have yet to conquer as a program.

The team will take on No. 3 seeded UCLA after USF shot a lower field goal percentage than the Rams and were outscored 16-10 in the paint.

“With everything that we’ve gone through,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said, “we haven’t played our best basketball and we haven’t had our best moment.”

The Bulls did just enough to defeat Colorado State, a team that went dancing as an 11 seed after being ranked 22nd in the nation with 31 wins and a top 45 RPI.

Fernandez’s team had to fight from being down 12-1 in the first six minutes of the game after Courtney Williams began the tournament from the bench.

“That was my decision not to start (Williams),” Fernandez said. “It didn’t look very good at the start of the game being down 12-1, but when she came in, she did a really good job.”

Williams finished the game with all of USF’s 31 bench points and their only double-digit scorer.

“My freshman year I came off the bench,” Williams said. “I was the sixth man. It took me back to my freshman year. I brought that energy. That’s what I did my freshman year, that’s what I tried to do tonight.”

While USF won the game despite being held to their lowest single-game scoring output this season, the Bulls will need to nearly double their point total to remain competitive. UCLA, one of five PAC-12 teams in this year’s tournament, ranks 31st in the nation in scoring offense with 74 points per game.

The only thing that can beat LA traffic is UCLA’s offense. The Bruins feature a high octane offense that transitions quickly and plays the entire court length.

Their defense is the catalyst for their attack. The Bruins rank 31st in the nation with 9.9 steals. Their opponents average 18 turnovers a game. USF is 1-4 when they earn 18 or more turnovers a game.

USF’s stat line against CSU is one game compared to the amount of post-season experience this team has. This year’s seniors played in three of the program’s four NCAA Tournament appearances. The Bulls also returned all five of their 2015 tournament starters, a group that set 14 program NCAA Tournament records last year.

There are two tasks the Bulls have yet to ever accomplish: beating a team voted higher than a top 12 AP ranking, and getting to the Sweet 16.

But it is March Madness, after all.

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