TAMPA ― On the night USF’s women honored lone senior Tamara Henshaw with a warm pregame tribute, sloppiness threatened to tarnish the sentimentality.
At least for a half.
Stymied by 11 fouls and 12 turnovers in the first half, the Bulls (18-11, 10-5 American Athletic Conference) finally pulled away from SMU (12-15, 6-9) in the third en route to an 85-62 triumph before an announced Yuengling Center audience of 2,414.
The victory clinches a first-round bye for USF in next week’s conference tournament in Uncasville, Conn. The Bulls close the regular season Monday night at UConn (7 p.m., ESPN2).
Leading 34-31 at halftime, USF went on a 20-4 third-quarter run sparked by 5-foot-8 perimeter mates Elisa Pinzan and Elena Tsineke, who combined to score the first 15 points of the surge. Juco transfer Bethy Mununga (13 points, 16 rebounds) scored the last five to give the hosts a 58-40 lead.
“Defensively, we held ‘em to (33.3) percent from the floor in the first half, but look how many points they had at halftime (11) from the free-throw line,” said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez, whose team likely will be the No. 4 seed in the AAC tourney.
"We had three guys with two fouls and one guy with three fouls, so that was the difference. We got out in transition (in the second half), we moved the ball. Instead of dribbling we passed it, and we got better shots in that third quarter.”
Tsineke’s 21 points led USF, which committed only five turnovers and seven fouls after halftime. Henshaw, sixth on the school’s career rebounds list, finished with eight points, five boards and two assists.