Tuesday, September 25, 2018
  • USF Sports Bulletin
  • Joey Knight

Laksa’s 41 points lead USF women to upset of Buckeyes

For the better part of 40 breathtaking minutes Sunday afternoon, unranked USF's aspirations of hosting an NCAA Tournament opening weekend and playing into the second weekend didn't seem far-flung.

But the baskets Kitija Laksa kept sinking sure did. That mesmerizing long-range proficiency helped propel the Bulls to one of their biggest wins in recent memory.

The 6-foot junior from Latvia scored a career-high 41 points — hitting eight of 13 3-pointers — to lead the Bulls to a nationally televised 84-65 embarrassment of No. 13 Ohio State before an announced Sun Dome crowd of 2,852.

"When she's in a zone, she's just as good as any scorer or shooter in the country," Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said. "And the big thing is, she got really good looks. A lot of her looks were open looks, and she knocked 'em down."

USF (20-5), thirsting for just such a quality win to fortify its NCAA resume, hadn't defeated such a highly ranked foe since an 11-point victory at No. 11 Louisville on Feb. 20, 2013.

Laksa's 41 points were three shy of Shantia Grace's school single-game record set in 2008. She drained the game's first shot — a 3-pointer — and had 18 points after one quarter, by which time the Bulls had built a 31-13 lead.

Creating her open shots was a movement-heavy half-court offense facilitated by senior point guard Laia Flores (11 assists).

"My teammates just found me," said Laksa, who has two 40-point games this season. "We did everything right, we did everything good, the ball was falling in. And at the same time, the crowd was special. I think just because of the crowd we won, because they were amazing."

Meantime, the Bulls mostly neutralized Buckeyes senior guard Kelsey Mitchell, the NCAA's career leader in 3-pointers and Big Ten's all-time scoring leader. Guarded primarily by 5-foot-11 veteran Laura Ferreira, Mitchell finished with 19 points — more than five below her season average — and hit only two of eight 3-pointers.

"We don't win without (Ferreira)," said Bulls senior Maria Jespersen, who notched her 13th double-double of the season (20 points, 14 rebounds). "Her defense was tremendous."

With Mitchell mostly locked down, the Buckeyes (20-6) turned to 6-3 senior Stephanie Mavunga, who scored 28 points inside. But USF allowed virtually no second-chance scoring opportunities to Ohio State, which managed only six offensive rebounds.

USF finished with a 46-26 advantage on the glass.

"They had one offensive rebound in the first 20 minutes of basketball," Fernandez said. "That's what we talked about at halftime. That was the key, it was one-and-out for them."