USF (19-5, 9-2) led ECU (13-11, 5-6) from wire-to-wire in its 88-47 victory Wednesday night, allowing for freshmen Alba Prieto and Vanessa Blagmon to play significant minutes.
The freshmen duo stepped into a more prominent role, playing a combined 32 minutes, while scoring a career-high 13 and 11 points, respectively, in front of 2,009 fans at the Sun Dome.
“Both of them, they’re going to have nice careers here,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “They’ve just stayed with the process and they continue to work and invest and put in time. They got opportunities tonight and they played well.”
Prieto shot 75 percent from three-point range and dished out three assists.
“I think we just came with another energy and another attitude,” Prieto said. “I don’t know, we felt like the team was really supporting us and telling us to shoot the ball, so we just did it.”
In their last three games, the Bulls have recorded 50-plus rebounds, but came up short against the Pirates, bringing down 49. They also allowed the Pirates to record 16 offensive rebounds. Fernandez noted that rebounding, particularly on the offensive glass, needs to be improved moving forward.
“The two areas that were very uncharacteristic for us, yeah, we won the rebounding battle, but we gave up so many offensive rebounds and that’s just not us,” Fernandez said. “We had six more turnovers than our average. We average 11 a game. We gave them extra possessions.”
Blagmon recorded three rebounds and two assists in addition to scoring in double-digits.
On the court, junior guard Kitija Laksa was visibly excited when Prieto and Blagmon were making their shots. After the game, the excitement continued.
“I’m happy for my freshmen,” Laksa said.
Laksa led the Bulls in scoring with 25 points and shot 58 percent from the field, but didn’t earn any trips to the free throw line.
As a team, the Bulls shot 52 percent and converted half of their three-point attempts. In the first half, ECU was unable to make a single three-point shot, allowing the Bulls to pull away early.
“I’m pleased how we shot the ball, I don’t think we’ve shot the ball like that in a long, long time,” Fernandez said.
Next up, USF hosts No. 13 Ohio State (19-5, 8-3) on Sunday at 2 p.m.