TAMPA — Showing some rust after more than a month without games due to coronavirus complications, the USF women’s basketball team struggled mightily Wednesday night against visiting Cincinnati, a team many expected the No. 12-ranked Bulls to dominate.
In the end, however, the Bulls also showed tremendous grit, beating the pesky Bearcats in overtime, 69-65.
“We did some very uncharacteristic things, and I think that has something to do with only playing a couple of games in the (last 35 days),” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “But I was proud of the way we hung in there. We had some players really step up.”
The toughest of the bunch? That would have to be guard Elisa Pinzan and forward Bethy Mununga, who played every single minute, and forward Shae Leverett and guard Sydni Harvey, who played 43 and 41 minutes, respectively.
It was Pinzan (11 points, nine assists) and Mununga (19 points, 14 rebounds) who made the final, crucial shots in regulation: Pinzan hitting a pull-up jumper with 2:28 remaining on the clock and Pinzan zipping an assist through heavy traffic to Mununga, who dropped in a layup with 1:33 to play.
From there, the score remained tied at 56 until the buzzer.
In overtime, Harvey (a game-high 23 points) and Mununga combined to score the final 13 points.
When asked about possibly being fatigued after playing so hard following such a long layoff, Pinzan and Harvey basically shrugged it off.
“I’m a little tired, but it’s okay,” Pinzan said. “This is what we are supposed to do. It feels good to be playing again.”
It has been a long, frustrating stretch by any measure, but at least on Wednesday the Bulls were back to operating with almost all of their players. The only one missing from the 15-player roster was leading scorer Elena Tsineke, who is expected to return for Saturday’s home game against Tulane.
Also back for the first time on Wednesday were guard Maria Alvarez, and wings Krystyna Brabencova, and Cristina Bermejo, who played sparingly after long layoffs.
Fernandez said he hopes with each passing day his team “will get back more into the flow,” which he hopes translates to some better shooting from the Bulls (12-1, 9-0 in the American Athletic Conference).
Against Cincinnati (4-14, 3-11) USF had by far its worst shooting night of the season, making just 34.9 percent from the field and just 5 of 28 attempts from 3-point range, including just 1 of 14 in the first half.
“That most definitely must improve,” Fernandez said. “I believe it will.”