The USF women’s basketball team took a while to heat up Tuesday night during their American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal in Fort Worth, Texas.
But the Bulls — the defending conference champs who played a tough regular-season schedule — steadily found their groove before pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 63-53 victory over No. 7 seed Memphis.
No. 2 seed USF (23-7) moves on to play in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. semifinal against Houston or Tulane, who played late Tuesday night.
It is familiar territory for USF, which has advanced to at least the semifinal round in each of the previous eight conference tournaments and to the championship game five times (2015-18 and 2021).
“This group has been in a lot of close games against some very good teams, facts that help us in games like tonight,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “We’ve been in plenty of tight situations.”
The first quarter was particularly rough in the shooting department for the Bulls, who converted only 21.1 percent from the floor (4-of-19) and 0-for-5 from 3-point land. Despite the poor shooting, USF trailed only 12-10 after the first period.
In the second quarter, the Bulls improved to 50 percent from both the field (7-of-14) and in 3-pointers (2-of-4), but the score at intermission ended up tied at 27, thanks in part to a 5-0 run by Bulls guard Elisa Pinzan (a 3-pointer and two free throws) to close out the half.
“Pinzan looks like she’s back to her old self (when she played great to start the year),” Fernandez said. “She made some big plays. She is a great player.”
After trading baskets throughout the third quarter (which ended tied at 45) and also deep into the fourth, the Bulls and Pinzan finally hit a steady series of key shots down the stretch.
With 2:45 left in the game, Pinzan was fouled on a 3-point attempt and proceeded to sink all three of her free throws to push the lead to 54-48. Then with 1:50 remaining, Pinzan hit a 3-pointer to push the Bulls to their biggest lead at 57-48, an advantage that Memphis (16-12) couldn’t cut into the rest of the way.
Pinzan finished with 16 points, but it was Bulls guard Elena Tsineke who led all scorers with 22 points, including 18 in the second half, most of those coming off hard drives to the basket.
“I was just trying to forget what happened in the first half (when she picked up two fouls and had to sit for a while),” Tsineke said. “In the second half I was feeling confident in myself.”
Bulls sharp-shooting guard Maria Alvarez, who twisted her ankle in the regular-season finale last week, took some pre-game warm-up shots but didn’t play. Fernandez said Alvarez’s playing status is “day to day.”