TAMPA — With expectations rising high, the USF women’s basketball team trotted onto the Yuengling Center floor Monday for the season opener and looked pretty darned promising.
Quick, smooth and precise through the majority of the evening, USF dominated Morehead State 87-40 — a score that could have been much more lopsided if the Bulls had not eased off on the accelerator in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls ended the first half with a 40-8 lead, a defensive effort that ranks tied for fourth in program history for fewest points allowed in a half.
Perhaps equally encouraging was the total points scored, marking the first time since Jan 9, 2020, the Bulls reached at least 80 points in a game (80-51 over Houston). Last season, in which the Bulls finished 24-9, USF never scored more than 77.
The biggest sparks on Monday came from a couple of returners, preseason conference player of the year Elena Tsineke (15 points) and forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu (12 points), along with two newcomers, junior Sammie Puisis (transfer from Florida State) and freshman Carla Brito (from Spain), who finished with 20 and 14 points, respectively.
Puisis, a 6-foot-1 former McDonald’s High School All-American, looked particularly comfortable in the Bulls’ offensive flow, connecting on 7 of 13 shots from all over the floor.
“We’ve worked really hard together all summer and all preseason and it felt really good to finally put on the (USF) uniform and get the win,” Puisis said. “It was super fun.”
The good vibe spread down the roster, which featured nine players (including five freshmen) getting at least 15 minutes of playing time. Every player scored except for starting junior guard Aerial Wilson, but she had a game-high seven assists with no turnovers.
Another promising prospect looking ahead is the fact the Bulls — receiving preseason votes (three) in the Associated Press top 25 poll — were not even at full strength, with three solid contributors out with various injuries. Junior guard Maria Alvarez could return in December, while Syracuse freshman transfer guard Priscilla Williams (another former McDonald’s All-American) and Ole Miss sophomore transfer Caitlin McGee could be back within a week or so.
Coach Jose Fernandez, beginning his 23rd season with the Bulls, said he was encouraged by the win, but there are things to work on.
“I thought in the first 20 minutes, we got out and defended and kept them in front of us, held them to eight points and that was pretty good,” Fernandez said. “But then in the third quarter in those first 3 minutes I wasn’t very pleased with how we came out. We didn’t have the flow. And that’s what I talked with these guys about. It doesn’t matter what the score is. You can’t have any bad habits develop. You have to keep up the flow, the intensity.”
One thing that consistently held up throughout the night was the Bulls’ shooting touch: USF made 31 of 53 attempts from the field (58.5%), 6 of 13 3-pointers (46.2%) and 19 of 25 free throws (76%).
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
USF men fall short
The USF men pulled in some new names to try and bolster their chances this season, but in Monday’s season opener the Bulls left the Yuengling Center with an all too familiar frustrated feeling, losing 64-61 to Southeast Missouri State.
Looking similar to last year’s Bulls team that finished last among the 350 Division I schools in 3-point shooting percentage (25.27), USF made only 4 of 19 attempts Monday from 3-point range (21.1%). Adding to the frustration was a 9 of 19 performance from the free-throw line (47.4%) — facts that weighed heavily on coach Brian Gregory.
“The way I’ve always gone about it is that if you’re not shooting the ball well, you to have to have a clear mind and an open heart and keep getting in the gym and busting your tail and shoot with confidence,” Gregory said. “I don’t know, maybe they’re hearing the chatter on social media and whatever and I’m sure they are. But you just have to keep at it. Keep shooting. Keep getting looks and shoot them with confidence. That’s what you have to do.”
One of the transfers, guard Tyler Harris (Memphis), made only 4 of 15 shots, including an 0-for-8 performance from beyond the arc.
South Carolina transfer Keyshawn Bryant was one of the bright spots, making 7-of-11 from the field, including 3-of-5 on 3-pointers for a game-high 19 points. Bulls 7-foot center Russel Tchewa led with nine rebounds but scored only three points while under a great deal of defensive focus.
• • •