Alvarez, Mununga shine in matinee victory over VCU

Maria Alvarez scored a career high 20 points in USF’s Friday morning victory over VCU. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

No. 25 USF women’s basketball (4-0) had a bit of a weird tip-off time for its game Friday against VCU (1-2) — an 11 a.m. matinee for Elementary Day.

The Bulls rode the energy of the hundreds of children in attendance at the Yuengling Center in a 77-55 wins over the Rams. 

The Bulls also rode the hot hands of freshman guard Maria Alvarez and junior forward Bethy Mununga.

Alvarez finished with a career-high 20 points, shooting 7-of-10 from the field and 5-of-7 from 3-point range.

“On the offensive end, she’s as talented as anybody,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “She has a great ability, she reads a defense real well, her feet are set — she can shoot it. I think she plays very unselfish as well.”

When asked about her confidence in taking big shots during the game, which included a 3-pointer right before the halftime buzzer, Alvarez said she owes that to her team.

“It’s pure confidence from my teammates and coaches,” Alvarez said. “Going into the game, I know that everyone has my back. Even if I miss I know they’ve got my rebound. It’s really just confidence of everyone from our post players, our guards, even our coaches just letting me have that green light on the court.”

Mununga also had a career day, scoring a career-high 14 points. She also collected 12 rebounds, giving Mununga her third double-double of the season just four games in. 

“She just does what she does, she’s just steady,” Fernandez said. “Her effort and her energy and her productivity speaks for itself. She doesn’t take plays off, and she just hammers the glass, she assaults it.”

Although the final result was a comfortable win for the Bulls, there were moments early on when the game was anything but that.

After the Bulls extended their lead to seven points early in the second quarter, VCU went on a 10-0 run, resulting in a 3-point lead for the visiting Rams. 

Fernandez called a timeout, and soon after, sophomore guard Elisa Pinzan went on a five-point run of her own. Pinzan’s run cumulated in a 3-pointer, tying the game at 24, after which she let out an emphatic scream. 

“I said what I needed to say [during the timeout], but we’ve got the type of team now that they’ll take care of it. So they handled it,” Fernandez said. “It was inexcusable the way we were playing. … I think that was a big turning point and how we responded when we came out of the timeout and we closed out the half.”

Pinzan’s 3-pointer was the beginning of what became an 21-2 run for the Bulls that stretched into the opening minutes of the second half. Once USF took the lead back in the second quarter, the Bulls never looked back, as they went on to dominate in the second half, outscoring the Rams 40-29 in the final 20 minutes.

The Bulls were ignited by some red hot shooting from 3-point range as well. Including Alvarez’s 71 percent from long range, USF shot 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in the first half and 10-of-18 for the game.

“We’ve got a good shooting team,” Fernandez said. “The 3 is a big part of our game because we have so many guys that can shoot the ball well. … When you have good floor spacing and you make extra passes, you’re going to get good looks and uncontested looks and that’s what we got today.”

The Bulls face a tough challenge next, as they travel to Waco, Texas, on Tuesday to take on defending national champion No. 2 Baylor at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN+ and air on Bulls Unlimited.

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