Strong defensive play lead Bulls to victory

The Bulls closed out their home nonconference schedule with a 75-50 blowout win over La Salle. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Despite an inconsistent offensive performance, USF women’s basketball closed their two-game homestand with a 75-50 win against La Salle on Saturday at the Yuengling Center.

While the Bulls (10-3) blew out their opponent, their offense in the first half was disjointed due to early shooting troubles and turnovers. South Florida’s scoring picked up at times, but its strong defense against the Explorers (8-5) in the second half allowed them to build a greater lead.

USF scored their first three baskets unanswered. However, its hot start was quickly extinguished as it ended the first quarter shooting 36% from the field. La Salle was able to respond and tie the game 12-12.

South Florida continued to struggle early in the second quarter until senior guard Elena Tsineke sparked a 10-0 run thanks to quick layups in the basket.

Tsineke finished the game with 10 points, a career high nine rebounds and six assists.

Continuing the hot stretch, the Bulls knocked down four of their five three-point attempts to end the quarter.

Although USF doubled its point total from the first quarter, its nine turnovers in the first half allowed La Salle to regain some ground and shave the Bulls’ lead to 36-28 by the end of the first half.

Coach Jose Fernandez was not impressed with the team’s initial offensive performance.

“I thought we slept through that first half. We just weren’t good,” Fernandez said. “Our value for the basketball wasn’t there like it usually is and that’s what continues to be a concern.”

Coming out of the break, USF shot just under 32%, however its defense bunkered down on the Explorers. South Florida’s defense strung together enough stops to hold La Salle to 10 points compared to the 19 it allowed in the previous quarter.

Senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, who tied her career high total of 26 points in one game, and junior guard Sammie Puisis carried the Bulls’ scoring load. Their totals combined made up 15 of the 17 points USF scored in the third quarter.

The final quarter played out similarly as the Bulls outscored the Explorers 22-12.

Puisis totaled 16 points off the bench and made a three midway through the fourth to extend the Bulls’ lead 70-47.

What ultimately stalled South Florida from extending its lead earlier in the contest was their carelessness with the ball. It finished the game with 17 turnovers, many of which resulted from driving into the paint when it was closed off by La Salle’s defense.

Fernandez said the Bulls will need to cherish their possessions to play at the level they are capable of.

“We’re too talented to be averaging 15 turnovers a game,” Fernandez said. “When that changes, we’ll be a lot better.”

Playing a cleaner game has to be a greater point of emphasis for USF in order to take down powerhouse No. 3 Ohio State in the San Diego Invitational on Dec. 20.

OSU (11-0) has steamrolled its competition, beginning the year with a scoring margin of 29.5 points per game. It has seen its best start since beginning the 2011-12 season 15-0. Fernandez acknowledged the challenge ahead for the team and gave credit to how versatile the Buckeyes are.

“They’re very balanced offensively. They can shoot to the three, create off the dribble, they have good size and they share [the ball] well,” Fernandez said. “So it’s a great opportunity.”

Women’s basketball hits the road to take on the Buckeyes in San Diego on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on FloHoops and BullsUnlimited.