After falling to No. 2 UConn in the semifinal of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Sunday, USF women’s basketball hung on to secure its first win of the year against a ranked team with a 71-62 victory over No. 9 Oregon in the tournament’s third-place game Monday.
It’s the program’s first victory over a top-25 team since last season’s win against Mississippi State on Dec. 5.
The No. 23-ranked Bulls (4-2) led by as many as 17 in the final period, but ultimately needed to knock down several key free throws down the stretch to put the Ducks (3-2) away.
“This is a big win for our program,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “I was very happy with our effort yesterday [against UConn], we just didn’t close the deal in the fourth quarter.”
USF was far from its best offensively, shooting 36% from the field, but was led by strong performances from redshirt senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu and sophomore guards Sydni Harvey and Elisa Pinzan.
While Harvey did most of her damage in the first half, scoring 14 of her 22 points in the opening two quarters, it was Pinzan who took over late.
Pinzan scored 22 of her career-high 26 points in the second half to go along with 10 assists. It’s her second career double-double.
“I just think my teammates and coaching staff, they were always supporting me,” Pinzan said. “Telling me to slow down if we needed to slow down if we needed to control the pace. That’s what got me going, my teammates and my coaches.”
Mendjiadeu had her best performance as a Bull putting up 17 points to go along with a team-high seven rebounds and three blocks against a talented Oregon frontcourt.
“We needed Dulcy today, on the biggest stage,” Fernandez said. “I know she’s been frustrated with how she’s been playing. She just stayed focused mentally. It’s tough because I know she wants to do so well and when you don’t see the results that you want, she felt like she was letting her teammates down.
“She had a really good, positive mindset before the game started. I got a really nice text from her late last night and we talked today. I’m very, very happy for her because she’s coachable [and] she’s got a great attitude. She needed this.”
The Bulls went into the locker room with a two-point lead thanks to a strong defensive effort in the first 20 minutes.
Although they allowed the Ducks to shoot 50% from the floor and 67% from three, Oregon was forced into 14 turnovers in the first half, eight of which were steals that led to 16 USF points.
Oregon finished with 25 turnovers, the most this season.
“The one thing that we hang our hat on is how we defend and how we prepare in trying to take away things that teams want to do,” Fernandez said. “So, that’s what we talked to our kids about.”
Looking ahead, USF has one more top-25 team to play before leaving the Bahamas in the form of reigning national champion No. 7 Stanford. Fernandez hopes the Bulls’ strong nonconference slate and impressive performance in the Bahamas will be rewarded by the NCAA come March.
“This time has the ability to have a very special year. I’m going to tell you right now, I see all around the country the schedules that other people are playing. I wouldn’t have scheduled the way we scheduled if I didn’t think we’d have a great year,” Fernandez said.
“Hopefully the NCAA committee looks at our nonconference schedule, that we went out and scheduled the right way, and we get rewarded with that when it comes to March.”
The Bulls will stay in the Bahamas to take on No. 7 Stanford on Friday at noon. The game will be televised on FloHoops and broadcast on Bulls Unlimited.