Bulls stampede Houston in regular-season finale

Senior forward Bethy Mununga finished with her 12th double-double of the season against Houston in her final game at Yuengling Center on Wednesday night. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

After weeks of struggling offensively, the USF women’s basketball team is seemingly getting back into shape at just the right time. The Bulls blew out Houston 71-38 in the final regular-season game of the season Wednesday night.

The Bulls (22-7, 12-3 AAC) looked more like the team that beat multiple top-10 opponents earlier this season as they shot 50% against the Cougars (14-14, 7-9). With the AAC tournament less than a week away, coach Jose Fernandez was very pleased with his team’s direction going into the postseason.

“I thought that was us, that’s what we used to do to people night in, night out,” he said.

With the win, USF also secured the two-seed in the tournament that’s set to start Monday in Fort Worth, Texas.

USF never allowed Houston to get in the game behind a dominant first half, opening a 49-16 advantage and leading by as much as 35 points with some red-hot shooting. The team shot 71% from three-point range over the first 20 minutes and finished the game at 55%, the highest mark of the season.

“I think it was good for everybody,” senior forward Bethy Mununga said. “For the coaches, for us, for the bench, for everybody because we were looking at each other like ‘OK, we might be back.’ And [junior guard Elisa Pinzan], after the game, had a speech in the locker room saying that she was missing playing with this kind of team.

“I think that’s really a motivation for us going toward the conference tournament.”

While the second half wasn’t as explosive, the Bulls’ efforts in the first half allowed them to cruise to the finish line, a welcome change from their last few games. They hadn’t won by double-digits since Jan. 30, their last matchup against Houston.

“It was good to see the ball go in the basket,” Fernandez said. “Some of these games lately have been rock fights, it’s been terrible. If I was watching on TV I’d change the channel.”

Sophomore guard Elena Tsineke led the way for the Bulls with 18 points and reached the 1,000 career-point milestone in the process. She was joined in double-digits by Mununga and sophomore guard Maria Alvarez who finished with 16 and 14, respectively.

“I’ve been working hard and that’s just motivation for me to go harder,” Tsinke said of hitting the milestone. “It’s an achievement that can only take me farther.”

As good as the offense was, USF’s defense might have been even more impressive against a Houston team that came into the game as the third-best offense in the AAC. The Cougars ended up shooting just 24% from the field and 14% from three.

Wednesday happened to also be the Bulls’ senior night in which it honored Mununga and Pinzan along with senior forward Shae Leverett and guard Sydni Harvey. Due to the effects on COVID-19 on collegiate athletics, Pinzan and Harvey will have the opportunity to return.

Mununga, who already used her extra year of eligibility, said it was important for her to go out strong in her final game at the Yuengling Center. She recorded her 12th double-double of the season against the Cougars.

“I made this game personal because [coming off] three games when that wasn’t me,” she said. “So for me to come back here, it was kind of like I had to redeem myself not for me, for the team, for the coaches, for all the fans. And also it was senior night, I had to play hard.”

The Bulls will have a first-round bye in the AAC Tournament at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. They are set to play Tuesday with the opponent yet to be determined.