TAMPA — The eighth-largest home crowd in the 51-year history of the USF women’s basketball program — 5,573 — poured into Yuengling Center on Wednesday and watched the Bulls defeat Marshall 77-68.
It was the annual Education Day game, which meant more than 4,500 of the spectators were elementary and middle school students, teachers and chaperones.
And the kids were loud, jumping and waving throughout the 1-hour, 38-minute game, an atmosphere that energized the Bulls.
“We really loved it,” said Elena Tsineke, who finished with 16 points and seven assists. “Having all the kids in there breeds a lot of excitement. It was really fun.”
Tsineke said she loved seeing teammate Maria Alvarez play in her first game this season after a nine-month rehabilitation for a torn ACL. Alvarez, injured during the 2021-22 regular-season finale, played 10 minutes, scoring nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
“There was some getting out of the nerves and anxiety before the game, because it has been a while since I played,” Alvarez said. “I’ve been working real hard on the physical part, and this past week was a lot of preparation on the mental stuff. Once I got on the floor, it felt so great. I was so happy.”
The Bulls (9-3) shot a season-best 73.3% (11-for-15) from the field in the first quarter for a 25-14 lead. Less than a minute after she entered the game, Alvarez made her first shot, giving USF its biggest advantage to that point, 32-20 with 7:17 to go in the second.
Marshall (5-4) rallied, cutting the deficit to 45-39 at halftime, then took a 46-45 lead with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
That’s when Alvarez made her second 3, giving the Bulls a 48-46 lead that it would not relinquish. They went on an 18-5 run to close the quarter and held a comfortable cushion the rest of the way.
Center Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu led USF with 17 points and five rebounds, while guard Sammie Puisis had nine points. They were followed by guard Carla Brito (eight points, seven rebounds), Priscilla Williams (eight points) and Daniela Gonzalez (seven points, eight rebounds).
Roshala Scott scored a game-high 28 for the Thundering Herd.
Eleven Bulls saw action, but coach Jose Fernandez said he announced Alvarez as the player of the game before it even started.
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“(Alvarez) is a young lady that has gone through a lot of adversity and put in a tremendous amount of time to work her way back on the court,” Fernandez said. “You want to see her have success after all that work, and we wanted her to get in some time (Wednesday), and she got in about 10 minutes and played well. She’s going to add some depth for us moving forward.”
The victory pushed the Bulls to 6-0 at home and gave them momentum entering Saturday’s home game against La Salle. Next week, USF heads to the San Diego Invitational for a game against No. 3 Ohio State on Tuesday.
“We’ve played a good schedule in these first 12 games (four of the past five have been against Top 25 opponents),” Fernandez said. “Right now, yes, I feel good. I do feel good about what we’re doing.”
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