TAMPA ― For those who forgot what a USF women’s team looks like when completely healthy, Wednesday’s opener at the Yuengling Center offered an uplifting reminder from several vantage points.
Especially under the basket and behind the arc.
The replenished Bulls collected 63 rebounds, hit 10 3-pointers and generally suffocated Jacksonville defensively in a 70-39 romp in the opening game of a men’s/women’s twin bill.
In the nightcap, the Bulls, who lost 2018-19 American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year Alexis Yetna to a season-ending knee injury Friday, held Arkansas-Pine Bluff to four field goals and 15 points in the second half in a 70-41 triumph.
In the wake of the most injury-besieged season of his two-decade tenure, coach Jose Fernandez used 11 players, all of whom played at least eight minutes. Junior wing Enna Pehadzic, who logged several 40-minute nights out of necessity last season, scored a game-high 20 in only 21 minutes.
“It’s more freeing when you have other people that can score too,” said Pehadzic, who went 6-for-9 from long range and was among nine Bulls who scored.
“It definitely makes you better. Your shot selection’s gonna get better, and you know what, we’re gonna win more games. … It’s just gonna be more fun basketball.”
Sixteen minutes in, the Bulls had more blocks (four) than JU had field goals (three). They led by as many as 18 in the first half before a mild defensive lapse just before halftime, but opened the third period with an 11-2 run to essentially seal things.
Six-foot junior college transfer Bethy Mununga had a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) in her USF debut despite playing less than 23 minutes, while freshman Maria Alvarez (11 points) went 3-for-8 from long range.
Yet Fernandez was quick to note that some glaring blemishes ― including 18 turnovers and an uncharacteristic 8-for-18 effort from the free-throw line ― must be cleaned up before Friday’s home contest against No. 15 Texas.
“Not taking anything away from Jacksonville,” Fernandez said, “but the talent level we’re gonna play on Friday is gonna be a lot different.”
In the men’s contest, the Bulls attacked UAPB’s zone defense with relentless dribble penetration, resulting in 35 free-throw attempts. Defensively, they forced 21 turnovers and held the Lions to a 13-for-45 effort (28.9 percent) from the floor.
“I thought our defensive intensity, ball pressure, was really good," third-year coach Brian Gregory said. “And it was multiple guys.”
Only a couple of field-goal droughts, including an 0-for-6 start, kept the outcome from being more lopsided. The Lions led 22-20 before USF closed the first half with a 17-4 run.
Junior David Collins led the Bulls with 18 points, finishing 10-for-17 from the free-throw line and adding four rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals. He and senior point guard Laquincy Rideau (10 points, 10 rebounds) combined for 24 of the Bulls’ 35 free throws.
“I believe with those two guys that we have one of the best backcourts in the country and one of the best in the league,” Gregory said. "And we’re gonna have to ride those guys. They’re juniors and seniors now, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls