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USF women succumb to Miami’s depth, dead-eye shooting in NCAA Tournament

The Hurricanes build an early lead and never relent in a 78-66 first-round triumph.
USF guard Elena Tsineke dribbles against Miami during the first half of their NCAA Tournament contest Friday in Columbia, S.C. The Hurricanes won, 78-66. She led all scorers with 21 points.
USF guard Elena Tsineke dribbles against Miami during the first half of their NCAA Tournament contest Friday in Columbia, S.C. The Hurricanes won, 78-66. She led all scorers with 21 points. [ SEAN RAYFORD | Associated Press ]
Published Mar. 18|Updated Mar. 18

They tipped off before noon, and found themselves in a double-digit hole before lunch.

And despite a couple of 11th-hour spurts Friday in their NCAA Tournament opener, USF’s women (24-9) couldn’t cultivate a shining moment against a deep, resurgent Miami club.

While the Bulls struggled to find an offensive rhythm, the Hurricanes (21-12) shot better than 60 percent in the first half and ultimately got 29 points from their bench in a 78-66 triumph at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C.

“I am as surprised as anyone that we got to 78, and that we had three quarters that we got (to) 20 points, because they are very difficult to score against,” said Miami coach Katie Meier, who earned her 400th career win. “Twenty-nine points off the bench — there’s the game.”

Miami head coach Katie Meier, right, talks with guard Ja'Leah Williams during the second half. Meier picked up her 400th victory.
Miami head coach Katie Meier, right, talks with guard Ja'Leah Williams during the second half. Meier picked up her 400th victory. [ SEAN RAYFORD | Associated Press ]

USF, which returned all five starters from a conference championship team and sent expectations spiking with early-season wins against Stanford and Oregon, failed to emerge from the NCAA tourney’s opening weekend for the eighth time in as many appearances.

“From the outside looking in, people will say, ‘Disappointing season, you returned everybody,’” said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez, who has presided over all eight of those NCAA trips. “People don’t really understand what goes on behind the scenes and what some of these kids have been through emotionally, physically, mentally.”

On Friday, Fernandez watched his team — 11th nationally in scoring defense (53.8 ppg) — struggle to contain a club that came at it in waves, and from all nooks of the court. After one quarter, Miami had hit 10 of 15 shots, including a 3-for-6 effort from 3-point range, and led 24-11.

USF, meantime, finished the period with more than twice as many turnovers (seven) as field goals (three). A 9-0 second-quarter run pushed UM’s lead to 42-23, prompting Fernandez to call a time-out. To that point, 10 different ‘Canes players already had scored, compared to only three for the Bulls.

“It came down to us not being able to keep them in front of us,” Fernandez said. “And again, Miami made shots. They played very well. We lost, we got beat. Miami was the better team on the floor (today). That’s what basketball is.”

USF guard Elisa Pinzan grabs a rebound during the second half against Miami.
USF guard Elisa Pinzan grabs a rebound during the second half against Miami. [ SEAN RAYFORD | Associated Press ]

Down by 17 with eight minutes remaining, the Bulls made a final push with a 10-2 run sparked by senior guard Elisa Pinzan’s eight points, but Miami senior guard Kelsey Marshall answered with a traditional three-point play.

The Bulls then missed their next two shots and committed a turnover before Marshall essentially sealed things with a 3-pointer, giving UM a 78-63 lead with 2:04 remaining.

Pinzan finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Junior Elena Tsineke led all scorers with 21, including 17 in the first half.

“It is so difficult to even cut against South Florida, and to even go from the wing to the top of the key; they don’t let you do it,” Meier said. “I think our pace and our depth allowed us to play to the style that we wanted to play. If the game had had been 50-55, I think South Florida might be sitting here right now.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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