By Alex Mantz and Jonathan Pressley
Florida Southwestern Lady Buccaneers extended their winning streak to 18 on Jan. 23 at the Suncoast Arena by defeating rival St. Petersburg College Lady Titans 76-68.
The Lady Buccaneers basketball team jumped out to a 43-26 lead at the half, but the Titans took control of the game in the third quarter, as the Buccaneers looked for answers.
“The worst quarter all year,” Head Coach Kristie Ward shouted from the sidelines as St. Pete cut the lead down to 11 at 57-46. The Lady Buccaneers were outscored 20-14 in the quarter.
St. Pete came out strong in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to 68-63 with 3:33 on the game clock.
After Ward called a timeout, Za‘Nautica Downs, who battled back spasms throughout the game, knocked down a 3-pointer in transition, stole the ball and fed Cherelle Washington in transition for a layup. The Bucs were up by 10.
“Za’Nautica brings us lots of energy,” Ward said after the game. “She is our spark plug.” Ward said. “Winning the free-throw line was key to winning the game.”
“One thing that helped us tremendously was consistent free throws,” said Ward. “Tina Stephens got to the line quite a bit.” Stephens converted 15 of 17 at the charity stripe.
This was the first time since mid-November the 22-2 Lady Bucs played a close game. Their two losses came in early November, against Broward and DME Academy. They lost the Broward game to open the season 75-73. The DME Academy game, two weeks later, on Nov. 16 ended in a 74-71 loss. Their closest win before this one came against Sante Fe on Nov. 9. The Lady Bucs won by 7 points.
This team is stronger than last years’ 26-6 squad, Ward said, which advanced to the state tournament and lost to eventual champion Gulf Coast State 72-54.
“This team has more depth than last year’s team. We have versatile players that can play multiple positions, creating match-up problems for the opposing team,” said Ward.
Last year’s squad averaged 79 points per game. This year’s team averages 90 points per game.
“We have depth in the post, with players that can score in a multitude of ways,” said Ward. “Our guards can both slash to the basket and, if left open, can knock down the three. Another area we are stronger in is overall size. We have a longer team this year at each position.”