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USF Bulls

WNIT: USF's Williams embracing breakout role

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Published:   |   Updated: April 2, 2014 at 06:57 AM

TAMPA — Courtney Williams, who hit one of the biggest shots in University of South Florida women's basketball history, refuses to take the credit for setting up tonight's WNIT semifinal meeting against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Sun Dome.

“I don't think I'm the reason we're standing here,'' Williams said. “I don't know why they're congratulating me so much. I just hit a shot.''

But it was a big one.

She got an inbounds pass with 4.2 seconds remaining, then raced down the court to bury a 3-pointer at the buzzer, lifting USF to a 60-58 quarterfinal victory at Mississippi State on Sunday night.

So now the Bulls (23-12) get a third game against Rutgers (26-9), their American Athletic Conference rival, the only team standing in the way of Saturday's championship game.

Williams said she finished the victory against Mississippi State, but without sophomore guard Shalethia Stringfield (career-high 20 points, five blocked shots, five assists, four rebounds), her buzzer-beating opportunity wouldn't have been possible.

“You have to give credit to the person who made it all possible,'' Williams said.

One point seems indisputable, though.

Without Williams' breakout season — 16.2 points per game, 7.5 rebounds, 10 double-doubles and 11 games with 20 points or more — USF wouldn't be in this position.

Last season, Williams was a reserve guard, averaging 7.4 points, playing behind Andrea and Andrell Smith, showing little interest in playing defense. When the Smith twins graduated from last season's NCAA tournament team, the light finally switched on for Williams.

“I had to raise my game and my effort,'' Williams said.

She has.

“I'm not that surprised,'' USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “She showed flashes last season. She had to pick up her defense. But now you're talking about one of the premier players in our league (first-team All-AAC). She has a really, really bright future.''

Williams, a 5-foot-8 guard from Charlton County High School in Folkston, Ga., said she loves being at USF. It was her first and only choice as a college destination.

But really, she never made the choice.

“It was my mom (Michele Williams),” she said. “She was on the trip. She said, 'Oh, it's so pretty, such a great school, this is where you're going.' I just said, 'OK, I just want to play ball. This is where I'll go.'”

Williams and her mother are seemingly taking the basketball journey together. Her mother is a constant Sun Dome presence, regularly making the four-hour trip. Williams takes pride in knowing she broke her mother's high-school scoring record of 40 points (she had 42, then 47 points in 2011-12, her senior season).

And when the shot went down at Mississippi State, guess who was on the telephone?

“My mom left a message to say, 'Call me! Call me! Call me!' ” Williams said. “She was so excited. I think she was more excited than me.

“This is the fun part, winning games like this and keeping the season going. We need to get through tonight (by beating Rutgers), win one more after that and I think we've proven our point. I just want to do my part and play my role.''

So far, Williams' role has been considerable.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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