Pinzan shines as Bulls make statement in WNIT first round

Elisa Pinzan (4) set a new career high for points, field-goals made and 3-pointers made in USF's 84-50 win against Stetson in the first round of the Women's NIT on Thursday night at the Yuengling Center. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Shae Leverett opened the scoring 12 seconds into the game with a layup.

A 3-pointer by Elisa Pinzan made it 7-2 with just under eight minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Not even five minutes later, another 3-pointer by Pinzan — already her third — made the score 25-9.

That’s how quickly USF (19-15, 7-9 AAC) turned its first round matchup in the Women’s NIT against Stetson (16-16, 11-5 ASUN) into an 84-50 blowout Thursday night at the Yuengling Center.

For a battered USF team that went the majority of the regular season without Kitija Laksa, Laura Ferreira and Beatriz Jordao, this was a statement win.

“I just think after the UConn game [in the AAC Tournament semifinals], we just wanted to come back out and show we can play because we didn’t have our best showing,” guard Sydni Harvey said.

Pinzan was the punctuation mark of that statement. The freshman set a career high in scoring (23 points), field-goals made (7-of-12) and 3-pointers made (5-of-7).

“I was focused in this game. I was ready to shoot the ball. The shot went in. I kept shooting. That’s it,” Pinzan joked. “I was lucky tonight.”

Pinzan’s performance continued a solid stretch of play. Including Thursday, Pinzan has scored in double digits in four of USF’s last seven games, with the only non-UConn exception coming against Cincinnati on March 2.

“One thing that you want to see as freshmen, you want to see them grow throughout the year,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “I think she has gotten better in all phases of the season … you look at what she’s done the last nine — 10 games — this is a kid that we recruited that we knew that she was going to give us.”

Pinzan wasn’t the only hot Bull from 3-point range, though.

Harvey and Enna Pehadzic combined for seven more 3-pointers, with Harvey going a perfect 4-of-4.

“I think we were just moving the ball really well,” Harvey said. “Everybody was sharing it. So then one person hits a shot, then it just keeps rolling. Then the next person’s going to hit a shot.”

The Bulls’ next opponent is not known just yet. USF will face the winner of James Madison vs. North Carolina A&T sometime between Saturday and Monday at a yet to be determined host site.

But what is known now is what’s at stake next — an opportunity for win No. 20 in a season that looked to be dead at multiple points over the course of the last few months.

“We were playing at Houston and we’re watching film and the game was on I think ESPNU,” Fernandez said. “And the commentator said, ‘OK, South Florida’s gone to five NCAA Tournaments the last six years. They’ve won 20 games the last six years. But that’s not going to happen this year.’

“Well, we’re one game away from 20 wins and we made the postseason.”