TAMPA ― An early-evening Yuengling Center audience observed what could go down as one of the costliest cakewalks in USF women’s history Friday.
Tempering the Bulls’ 80-29 romp of Alabama State (3-4) was the loss of 6-foot double-double machine Bethy Mununga (hamstring) in the opening moments and starting point guard Elisa Pinzan (ankle) in the waning ones.
Far less costly was the nightcap, where the Bulls men (5-4) shot 65.2 percent (15-for-23) in the second half to pull away for a 63-44 victory against Dartmouth (5-4).
The injuries to Mununga and Pinzan elicited still-raw reminders of last season, when coach Jose Fernandez lost three of his opening-night starters for the year by early January. This season, Fernandez already has lost reserve point guard Mihaela Lazic (unspecified) and 6-foot-1 forward Silvia Serrat (knee) for the year.
“We’ve got to see how serious the injury is, and if it is, we’ve been down this road before,” Fernandez said. “We’ll figure it out. Guys step up, and we put other guys in places.”
Fortunately for the veteran coach, this year’s team (6-4) is one of the deepest of his 20 seasons.
Freshmen Maria Alvarez (18 points), Kristyna Brabencova (16) and Elena Tsineke (15) led Friday’s charge as the Bulls exploited Alabama State’s zone defense for a 17-for-37 night from 3-point range.
“A lot of the shots we took were on ball reversals and inside-out and making the extra pass,” said Fernandez, who watched his team shoot 23 percent from long range (21-for-91) in three losses at last week’s Cancun Challenge. “A lot of them were totally different than some of the shots we took down in Cancun.”
Alvarez, primarily a two-guard, went 6-for-11 from long distance. Senior Tamara Henshaw equaled her career-high with 15 rebounds.
The Bulls men didn’t come out nearly as efficient offensively, missing 14 of their first 18 shots, but held the Big Green to their second-worst shooting night (34.1 percent) of the season.
USF found its touch after halftime, hitting its first six shots of the second half and ultimately going on a 22-4 run to seal things.
“I thought we took a really good step as a team in that first half,” said Bulls coach Brian Gregory, whose club led 26-23 at intermission. “Our offense was struggling…but our defense just stayed the course, and we were really disciplined defensively.”
Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson (11 points) had consecutive 3-pointers at the second half’s outset, finishing 3-for-5 from long range. Junior David Collins led USF with 13 points, while low-post reserve Antun Maricevic scored 10 off the bench in one of his better games as a Bull.