Los Angeles – Teams aiming to get into the second round of the NCAA Tournament don’t usually do so without their top scorer, but South Florida tried it for a bit Saturday.
Bulls coach Jose Fernandez sat meteoric guard Courtney Williams for almost six minutes to start the game against Colorado State, and watched as his team fell behind, 10-0. Even when she finally entered, Williams missed her first two shots, finally scoring at the 2:24 mark.
The rest of the game belonged to her, as she paced the team to a 48-45 win and ended with 31 points, playing all 35 of the remaining minutes. Afterwards, Fernandez offered no explanation, saying it was “his decision” to sit his star. Williams seemed unaffected by the move, even implying that it motivated her.
“My freshman year, I actually came off the bench. I was the sixth man my freshman year,” she said. “So it took me back to my freshman year, and I brought that energy. That’s what I did my freshman year and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”
Colorado State, 31-1 going into the contest but seeded 11th due to strength of schedule, proved a tough match up for the favored Bulls. The Rams had a 28-25 lead early in the third quarter before Williams went on a 15-4 run to put her team ahead, 40-32 to end the period.
South Florida had a 12-point advantage in the fourth quarter when Colorado State went on an 11-3 run to close the gap to 48-45 with 1:52 remaining. Ellen Gustavsson and Jamie Patrick both missed three-point shots to tie in the final minute, and a Sofie Tryggedsson three attempt with 1.6 seconds to play bounced off the rim.
Patrick had 17 points for the Rams, while Ellen Nystrom added 12.
Fernandez said he knew Colorado State was likely under-seeded.
“I was pleased we did enough to survive and move on,” Fernandez said. “I thought Colorado State continued to battle. They were down 10 and they just kept playing. They kept coming at us. I think we needed to close the game a lot better than we did. I’ve got to give them credit on a lot of things that they did to disrupt us and get back in the game.”
Colorado State coach Ryun Williams called Williams “the real deal,” but acknowledged that his team wasn’t at their best to close out the game.
“We didn’t have the best shooting night, but we did what we had to stay in the game,” Williams said. “That is what this group has done all year. This time of year, you have to make shots. We just missed a few that we usually make. Free throws would have been nice, but we had to be more aggressive in the third, fourth quarter.”
Nystrom said the Rams did their best to prepare to defend Williams.
“She’s a really great player, she’s really quick,” Nystrom said. “She gets her shot off really high so it’s really hard to block it. I just wanted to contest the shot every time. We knew she was going to have a good game, we were just trying to stop everyone else from a having a good game because we knew she was going to have 20, 30 points.”
South Florida takes on UCLA in Monday’s NCAA Tournament round 2 match up, at 6 p.m.