By: Mark Heise
The Bulls (4-0 overall) recovered from a slow start Friday night, using a strong last 24 minutes to run past the University of North Dakota inside the Sun Dome. USF outscored UND 49-32 in the second half, shooting 49 percent from the floor to win by its largest margin of the season.
Junior guard Inga Orekhova scored a career-high 23 points, knocking down five of the Bulls’ 11 three-pointers as the Bulls sank 12 more field goals than North Dakota.
“This might have been Inga’s best game, shot-selection wise,” head coach Jose Fernandez said. “She took high-percentage shots, and the good thing was our guards were able to find her. I don’ think she forced the issue or took quick shots, and her percentage reflects that.”
Orekhova added seven rebounds, two assists and two steals to her 23-point night, squaring off against North Dakota’s zone defense for the majority of the contest.
“As a shooter, I like facing a zone defense,” Orekhova said. “As a team, everyone can score for us and contribute, and that opens up shots for us on the outside.”
Twelve different players scored for the Bulls, including three in double digits, and 11 grabbed at least one rebound, helping the Bulls to a
49-36 rebounding advantage in the game, including 20 offensive boards.
It was a slow start offensively for the Bulls, as the UND zone defense clogged the lane and slowed down USF’s usual up-tempo pace.
The Bulls adapted late in the half, tying the game at 19 on Orekhova’s second three-pointer of the contest with 3:40 left. Orekhova put up 12 points in the first half and received help from senior Andrea Smith, whose eight points in the last 3:03 paced the guard to a team-high 14 first-half points. Breaking down the North Dakota zone, USF grabbed a 36-26 lead at the end of the half – leading a team by more than one point at the break for the first time this season.
Both teams came out shooting early in the second half, scoring a combined 22 points in the first four minutes of play. The shootout benefitted USF as the Bulls knocked down five of their six shot attempts, including a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc, to open up a 49-35 lead over UND. The Bulls extended their lead to as much as 27 in the half, getting 11 second-half points from Orekhova to cruise past UND, 85-58.
Andrea Smith scored 19 points off the bench for the Bulls, and Andrell Smith added 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
The Bulls go back on the road next week, facing UNC Ashville Wednesday before returning home to take on North Florida next Saturday.