Bulls survive nail-biter against Cougars to win first NCAA tournament game since 2016

Sophomore guard Elena Tsineke (above) scored a team-high 18 points in the win over Washington State on Sunday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The USF women’s basketball team secured its first win in the NCAA tournament since 2016 in nail-biting fashion after defeating the Washington State Cougars 57-53 on Sunday night in Austin, Texas.

With 1:47 left, freshman guard Charlisse Leger-Walker of Washington State (12-12, 9-10 PAC-12), who scored 18 points on the night, buried a three-pointer to give the Cougars a late one-point lead. On the very next possession, sophomore guard Elena Tsineke took the ball to the basket and nailed a layup to put the Bulls (19-3, 12-2 AAC) back up by one point.

Ultimately, Tsineke’s layup proved to be the eventual game-winner as junior guard Elisa Pinzan and sophomore Sydni Harvey combined for three clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the game.

Harvey and Pinzan, who dropped 10 and 12, respectively, were two of three Bulls to finish with double digits.

Before the late-game dramatics, the Bulls and Cougars opened the night with a neck-and-neck first quarter which was followed by a 25-point second quarter explosion by USF. 

A large contributor to that scoring outburst was Tsineke, who scored 12 of her team-high 18 points in the second quarter.

“I came here to give anything, I had to be ready anyway, it’s March Madness,” Tsineke said in a press conference after the game. “Everybody has to keep playing their best, that’s what really gets me going, it’s my mindset.

“The season is about to end so there’s no way back, you just have to give everything you’ve got and then it’s over, you have to get something out of it.”

After a tough layup from Pinzan to end the half, the Bulls took a 38-29 lead into the locker room. Coming out of the break, however, the Cougars did not go down without a fight as they went on a 16-7 run to knot the score up at 45 heading into the game’s final quarter.

Coach Jose Fernandez said he and the rest of the team knew Washington State was not going to make things easy because they are a battle-tested bunch.

“You’re up nine, and we knew they weren’t going to go away just because, you know that team right there had some really good wins in PAC-12 play, beating Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, they’ve been in wars,” Fernandez said. “Their three perimeter players can create off the bounce and shoot the three, they’re very well coached, they shoot well from the free-throw line. I thought we got off to a really good start, the second quarter was really good

“That third quarter, we got some pretty good shots [and] they just didn’t fall. The difference was we had three turnovers in those first 20 minutes, and then the first four minutes of that third quarter I believe we had three or four turnovers, and that’s what got them back into the game.”

Fernandez said at this point in the season it’s all about figuring out how to survive, and his team did just that Sunday.

“Right now it was about finding a way to win … I’m just really proud of these guys,” Fernandez said.

Next up, the Bulls will take on the No. 1 seed in the Mercado Region, North Carolina State. The Wolfpack easily handled their first round matchup against North Carolina A&T, beating the Aggies 79-58. Coach Wes Moore’s team had offensive contributions from all over the roster, with four of his players finishing in double digits.

Fernandez and the Bulls are excited to have the opportunity to be among and compete against some of the best teams in the country throughout the rest of their tournament run.

“This is our seventh trip here, we’ve never been to the second weekend,” Fernandez said. “We’ve been close … So it’s great to get a win, we’re one of the final 32 teams in the country, we have an opportunity to play on Tuesday.” 

The Bulls and the Wolfpack tip off at 3 p.m. on March 23 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.