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Bulls hand Tulane first conference loss behind strong free-throw shooting

Elisa Pinzan went 6-of-6 from the free-throw line against Tulane on Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Not so long ago, Tulane was 6-0 in the AAC. The Green Wave traded first and second place with usual favorite UConn the past week.

Then they met the Bulls for the first time this season.

By way of four double-digit scorers and a 13-of-14 performance at the free-throw line, USF women’s basketball (12-8, 4-2) ended Tulane’s (11-9, 6-1) hopes of a perfect conference run with a 63-56 win at the Yuengling Center on Saturday.

Free throws haven’t been a strong point for the Bulls this season, but made free throws were a major part of Saturday’s win. It’s also the best percentage (93 percent) the Bulls have had all season.

“We struggled early on, especially in nonconference, but I think in conference play we’ve done a much better job,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “That’s just an investment … investment and concentration and having the same routine when you go to the free-throw line.”

Meanwhile, for the first time in league play this season, the Bulls had more than three double-digit scorers.

Sydni Harvey (16), Elena Tsineke (14), Elisa Pinzan (12) and Kristyna Brabencova (11) combined for 53 points, more than 84 percent of the total USF score.

Pinzan’s points all came in the second half, mostly at the free-throw line. Although she made just two field goals, both were 3-pointers at crucial times that extended USF’s lead — both came in the latter half of the third and fourth quarters.

In terms of shooting at the line, Pinzan led with 6-of-6. She made five consecutive in the final seconds of the game.

Her contribution at the line is what snuffed out any chance of a comeback from Tulane.

“We’re a different team with her on the floor,” Fernandez said. “I think she does a good job managing the game.”

Shooting percentage wasn’t the best — the Bulls were 20-of-53 from the field. But the shots that fell counted. And they were carefully planned.

With seconds left in the third quarter, Tsineke stole a poor pass and dished it to Pinzan, who waited until there was just a little more than 11 seconds left. She then found Brabencova on the perimeter who sunk it from 3-point range.

By the time the buzzer sounded, the ball had hit the floor, and the Bulls held an eight-point lead heading into the final quarter.

That play was all down to calculated coaching.

“We went misdirection instead of stagger screen away from Brabencova to hit that 3,” Fernandez said.

Tulane went on a 9-0 run with under four minutes in the game to carve into the Bulls’ lead. In the end, it boiled down to who could manage the clock and manage the runs, according to Harvey.

“We know it’s a game of runs,” she said. “They’re going to hit shots, but we have to respond every time.”