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USF keeps up with No. 4 Baylor in 67-62 loss

Maria Alvarez scored 18 points in her first appearance since suffering a knee injury last season. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Maybe it was the sound of “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” playing throughout the Yuengling Center that rattled No. 4 Baylor before the game. Most likely it was because USF was running the game in the first half.

The Bulls ran the court in the first 10 minutes until giving away their once six-point lead in the final minute of the quarter. USF led again most of the second quarter until a 5-0 Baylor run in the last two minutes flipped the script just before the half.

The 29-28 Baylor lead after 20 minutes didn’t show it, but the Bulls (1-1) mostly kept up with the Bears (2-0) through 40 minutes. It wasn’t enough to come out on top, however, and USF lost 67-62 on Tuesday.

“I told our kids, ‘These are the type of games … there’s a reason why we schedule them,'” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.

Through the first half, USF limited Baylor to 0-of-9 from distance and 11-of-38 from the floor.

One of the Bears’ top returning scorers from last year, Queen Egbo, shot 1-of-6 from the field in the first half and went 0-of-4 in the first quarter. Even Baylor’s top returning scorer, NaLyssa Smith, was limited to 2 points in the first half, all from the free-throw line.

Limiting Baylor’s top scorers is half the battle, and the scoreline showed it wasn’t perfect. That was due to a glaring concern for Fernandez — turnovers. The Bulls gave up 14 in the first 20 minutes and finished the night with 18.

“Against very good basketball teams you can’t give them extra possessions,” he said.

The Bulls took better care of the ball in the second half but succumbed to Baylor’s 29 rebounds and 11 second-chance points, with 9 coming in the fourth quarter.

After being limited to just 3 points in the first half, Egbo surged to 25 points and 11 rebounds, going 10-of-19 from the floor.

A two-minute 8-0 run by Baylor in the fourth quarter saw no lead turn into an 8-point lead. The Bulls came within 3 points, but the Bears would keep their lead through the buzzer.

“We definitely took their best punch. We just got to respond, learn from this and move forward,” Fernandez said.

USF found 21 points off of 3-point shots from Bethy Mununga and Maria Alvarez. Mununga went 5-of-5 from the floor, with three of those shots from range. She secured her first double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

For Alvarez, it was her first game back since a knee injury that left her out of much of last season. From the bench, she delivered, scoring 18 points and shooting 5-of-9 from the field. Her production mainly came in the second half where she scored 16 points and made four 3-pointers.

Just being back on the court gave her the energy she needed, Alvarez said.

“I think I just needed one bucket to fall for me to actually get a feel for it, and once that one fell I just knew everything was going to fall for me,” she said. “I was just really hyped and my teammates were hyping me up too … it just felt really good.”

USF plays another top-10 team Saturday in No.6 Mississippi State, and keeping what went well — like her shooting — and learning from mistakes is going to be key against the Bulldogs, Alvarez said.

“We could watch the film and see the little mistakes that led up to the tight game at the end,” she said. “I think once we fix the little mistakes that we did this game it’ll be easy for us and we can kind of work on it these next couple of days and be ready for Mississippi State.