Jacksonville Sports Day

WEEKEND FEATURE: Laksa Motivated for Big Senior Season After Historic FIBA World Cup Trip

TAMPA – Globetrotting USF women’s basketball superstar Kitija Laksa is back on campus and ready for another memorable run with Bulls after enjoying a hoops experience like no other.

Less than a week ago, Laksa returned from her history-making trip to Tenerife, Spain, where she represented her home country of Latvia in the FIBA Women’s World Cup, the biggest tournament in the women’s game.

“I’m honored and I’m proud of my country’s success,” Laksa said Tuesday. “We made history by just being the first Latvian team there for men’s or women’s basketball. It was a huge experience for all of us to see it and feel it. It’s definitely something I will not take for granted.”

In three group phase games at the FIBA Women’s World Cup, USF’s two-time WBCA All-America honorable mention averaged 10.3 points and posted double-digit scoring figures twice late last month. After a three-point loss to China, the sharpshooter knocked down four three-pointers and scored 12 points in a 70-69 setback against Senegal.

“We lost two games in a row in the last seconds against China and Senegal,” Laksa said. “The last game (against the U.S.), we just went in and enjoyed. It was really a huge experience.”

Against the eventual FIBA World Cup champion Americans, Laksa made four of her nine field goal attempts, finishing with 12 points and four rebounds in a game she’ll always remember.

“That’s pretty much a dream come true,” she said. “Who would imagine us, as a small country, playing the United States and being down by 10 at halftime.”

What made the whole experience extra special for Laksa and her team was the super support they got nearly 3,000 miles away from home.

“The stands were full of Latvians,” Laksa said. “Before the game, we were singing our national anthem and everyone was in tears. That’s what athletes live for – just having that support.”

Laksa also got a big boost seeing her family in the stands along with USF head coach Jose Fernandez, his wife, Tonya, as well as Bulls associate head coach Michele Woods-Baxter.

“That’s incredible,” Laksa said. “I’m grateful they came and it really means a lot.”

Grateful also is a good way to describe how Laksa feels about her whole hoops experience with Latvia that began with her playing on the country’s U16, U18 and U20 teams growing up. Laksa has played in three European Championships and the FIBA Women’s World Cup was the latest highlight of her national team career that will continue next year with Latvia hosting a group stage of the European Championship.

“I will never forget my first European Championship when I was 17 and I’m definitely not going to forget my first World Cup,” she said. “It was really an exciting experience and I can’t put it into words just being around the best players in the world, seeing them play and playing against them.”

Laksa Ready for Super Senior Season
Back on campus and motivated more than ever, Laksa sported a big smile talking about her first handful or practices with the Bulls this season.

“Today we had our first scrimmage and it was good,” Laksa said Tuesday. “The new kids are getting along, trying to fit in and they’re doing a really good job. The ones that have been here all summer long, they’ve been working really, really hard. Everyone is here for a reason.”

Laksa heads into her senior season needing 688 points to become USF’s career scoring leader, a prestigious record currently held by Jessica Dickson (2,402 points, 2003-07). Laksa set USF’s junior scoring record with 717 points last season (21.1 ppg, second in The American). Laksa also set two NCAA records in 2017-18 – free throw percentage (96.5) and consecutive made three-pointers in a game (11) – but she wants to make an even greater impact in her final run with the Bulls.

“It’s my senior year and I’m ready to finish strong. I have different goals for this year. I’ve been on this team for a while and I just want to build on it,” she said. “I want to make my teammates better and that’s going to be my main goal. I want to leave something after I leave. I’m not just here to shoot some threes, I want to win games.”

Laksa has already been very victorious as a Bull, helping the program post three straight 24-plus win seasons and extend USF’s NCAA tournament appearance streak to four consecutive seasons. With seven letterwinners back (four returning starters) and a star-studded recruiting class on the court, Laksa expects more big things from the Bulls this season.

“We have all the pieces, we just need to put them together,” she said.

USF’s highly anticipated season begins with a tough test at Ohio State on Nov. 6. Bulls fans can watch the team for the first time at home against University at Albany on Nov. 9. Reserve your seats for the season at USFBullsTix.com.

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