When the USF women’s basketball needed a big bucket Tuesday in its 61-57 win over Wichita State, junior guard Elisa Pinzan was there to provide it. Usually the team’s facilitator, she turned into the Bulls’ biggest offensive threat against the Shockers.
With the Bulls (19-7, 9-3 AAC) struggling from deep over the last few weeks, Pinzan, who finished with a game-high 22 points, carried the load from beyond the arc against the Shockers(13-13, 4-9). She finished 5-of-10 from three-point range, her best performance since the team’s Dec. 12 win against VCU.
“I’ve been struggling a lot the past few games, but I went in the gym and put shots up and stuff like that,” Pinzan said.
“I think today I was mentally ready to be like ‘OK, when the ball comes to me, let’s be shot ready and knock it down.’ That’s what I did and it helped me get my confidence back.”
Pinzan’s biggest shot of the game came with 11 seconds remaining. Up 56-54 and coming out of a timeout, Pinzan heaved a shot from the logo with the shot clock winding down to give the Bulls a five-point lead and ice the game.
“[Coach Jose Fernandez] said we got to score after this timeout,” she said. “I saw that nobody was really shooting and they passed it back to me … The shot clock was probably like two seconds left, so I was like ‘Well I’m going to shoot it,’ and it went in so that’s what’s good.”
In addition to Pinzan’s outburst, USF’s offense as a whole took a step in the right direction after weeks of subpar performances.
The Bulls shot above 40% from the field for the first time in nearly a month. The last time they did so was in their win against SMU on Jan. 26. They also knocked down eight three-pointers, the most since Dec. 29 against Jacksonville.
“I thought the ball moved a lot better,” Fernandez said. “The ball went inside-out, the ball got reversed, we made extra passes. I thought we took higher percentage shots today as well and we made open shots. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re at this level.”
Fernandez has been talking about his team’s need to put up more shots in their off-time and said the results of those efforts came to light Tuesday night.
“We stressed to [Pinzan and junior guard Sydni Harvey], the only way that you’re going to get your confidence [back] and the ball’s going to get in the hole is what you do outside the 20 hours we spend with you,” he said. “You have to get in the gym and get shots up and invest and see the ball go through the rim.
“They’ve done that for the last week and a half. It’s not a coincidence that [Pinzan] shot the ball better today. It’s about investment and you get return on your investment.”
Despite the improvement on offense, the Bulls still have issues that need to be addressed as they edge closer to postseason play.
Fernandez has acknowledged that if USF is going to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament, the team will likely have to go undefeated the rest of the season. But with each of these must-win matches coming down to the wire, it becomes taxing on himself and the team.
USF was up by as many as 11 points against the Shockers but weren’t able to pull away. They even trailed late in the fourth quarter and needed clutch shot-making from Pinzan to seal the win.
“It’s been a very taxing year on everybody,” he said. “But when you work on stuff and you watch film and you have great practices, and then we go into games and we just do things that we don’t practice, that’s the frustrating part.
“That’s why the games are coming down to the end where we got to take timeouts, we got to shorten the game and call stuff and almost dictate, orchestrate every possession the last five minutes. It’s not fun, it’s not enjoyable.”
The Bulls will have a quick turnaround for their next game as they’ll head to Wichita for the road leg against the Shockers on Thursday.
USF plays Wichita State at Charles Koch Arena with tip-off set for 7 p.m. Thursday. The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.