It was obvious that USF (6-4) came out with a point to prove on Friday night against Alabama State (3-4) after its struggles in the Cancun Challenge last week.
The Bulls went 0-3 in Cancun and lost their top-25 ranking.
But USF made its message loud and clear, as the Bulls came out and dismantled the Hornets in an 80-29 victory at the Yuengling Center.
However, the question must be asked: At what cost?
Junior forward Bethy Mununga went down with a hamstring injury just moments after tipoff.
Then, in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter, the Bulls lost sophomore guard Elisa Pinzan to an ankle injury.
However, in spite of those two big injuries, coach Jose Fernandez has confidence in his team’s ability to overcome adversity.
“We’ve been down this road before. We’ll figure it out,” Fernandez said. “Guys need to step up and we’ll put other guys in places.”
Fernandez’s vote of confidence in his team seemed to be contagious, as senior post Tamara Henshaw echoed her coach’s message.
“It’s always the people that do get injured that push us the most,” Henshaw said. “It’s those who are out that we push for the most, and they’re the kind of people that we look to have that message that it’s going to be OK, and we’re going to get through this. And they have our backs no matter what.”
Putting the injuries aside, it was an all around dominating performance by the Bulls on both ends of the floor.
After Alabama State cut the USF lead to six with 4:08 left in the first half, the Bulls went on a 9-1 run and headed into halftime with a 36-22 lead. The Bulls never looked back.
USF went on to dominate the rest of the game behind an unstoppable offense and smothering defense.
In the second half, the Bulls shot 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range while holding the Hornets to just two made field goals, both of which came in the third quarter.
The Bulls were led by Henshaw, who stepped up in place of the injured Mununga, and tied a career high with 15 rebounds.
Freshman guard Maria Alvarez scored 18 points, 12 of which came in the second half.
When asked if she was ready to step into the starting point guard sport in place of the injured Pinzan, Alvarez said she was prepared.
“Coach for sure has been preparing me for this. Whenever we run plays in practice, I’m always playing the wing or the point guard spot,” Alvarez said. “And with the help of my teammates all the time they’re pretty much always guiding me on the court. … So I mean if I really have to, I’ll be there for them to step up for sure.”
Although the injuries did cast a dark light on the victory, performances like this should be expected on a consistent basis, according to Henshaw.
“Who we are, we showed today,” Henshaw said. “We still have a little tweaks to get better at, but … listening to our coaches and understanding that they’re going to put us in the best situations, that’s who we are.
“We’re going to go back and fix those little things, but definitely tonight was a little glimpse of who we are.”