On Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET, the No. 21 South Florida Bulls (6-1) welcome the East Carolina Pirates (5-3) to Tampa for an AAC showdown.
Since an early-December upset of the then-No. 6 Mississippi State Bulldogs, USF has not suffered a letdown loss, notching four-straight wins. Most recently, they blew out the expected AAC bottom dwellers, the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes, 63-35 on Dec. 30.
Three @American_WBB road games, three wins. Bulls improve to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the AAC.— USF W. Basketball (@USFWBB) December 31, 2020
@PinzanElisa 1⃣3⃣ pts. ✅
@Bethy_Mng 1⃣1⃣ pts., 7⃣ rbs. ✅
@SydniHarvey3 pts. ✅
@ETsineke pts. ✅
@Shae_leverett 8⃣ rbs. ✅
'Nuff said‼️#HornsUp pic.twitter.com/Y6o3QwcCYJ
Head coach Jose Fernandez got strong, balanced production from across his lineup. While sophomore point guard Elisa Pinzan led the way with 13 points, including a 3-for-5 performance from 3-point range, junior forward Bethy Mununga added 11 points, and sophomore guard Syndi Harvey and freshman guard Elena Tsineke both chipped in with 10. Junior center Shae Leverett snagged a team-high eight rebounds.
However, there is some cause for concern for USF.
Against the Memphis Tigers (Dec. 16) and Cincinnati Bearcats (Dec. 22), USF established big leads that they let slip away. A 13-point second-half margin over the Tigers was cut to one point early in the fourth quarter before the Bulls again pulled away for the 65-58 victory. The Bulls’ early double-digit lead over the Bearcats also evaporated. After USF was up by 16 points in the first quarter, Cincinnati worked its way back into the game, eventually taking a lead late in the third quarter. But USF would finish strong, going on an 18-5 run midway through the fourth quarter to get the 73-61 win.
A little sharing during the holiday season is a beautiful thing. @SydniHarvey3 ➡️ @PinzanElisa ➡️ @Bethy_Mng make up our @IBEW Electric Replay of the Game from Tuesday's win at Cincinnati. #HornsUp pic.twitter.com/qY5Y7FElDS— USF W. Basketball (@USFWBB) December 24, 2020
Expect ECU to be ready to give USF a fight.
After back-to-back losses to the Georgia Lady Bulldogs and Duke Blue Devils in early December, the Pirates have won four-straight games, including three-straight conference wins to match the Bulls’ perfect 3-0 record in AAC action.
Illustrative of ECU’s excellent start to conference play is the fact that two Pirates have been named AAC Player of the Week.
Senior guard Lashonda Monk earned the honor on Dec. 21 for her career-high 32-point performance in ECU’s 74-67 win over Cincinnati. Then, sophomore guard Taniyah Thompson picked up the Player of the Week hardware on Dec. 28 after dropping a season-high 27 points in ECU’s 72-64 victory over the Tulane Green Wave,
POW ☠️— ECU Women’s Basketball (@ECUWBB) December 21, 2020
(The only @ncaawbb DI player to log a 30/6/5/4 game thus far this season) pic.twitter.com/7qwoOSI2uh
Back to back POTW for the ☠️ pic.twitter.com/FRo5ODmyAt— ECU Women’s Basketball (@ECUWBB) December 28, 2020
If they upset USF, don’t be surprised if the Player of Week honor again stays with ECU, whether Monk, Thompson or another Pirate earns the award.
No. 21 South Florida Bulls (6-1, 3-0 AAC) vs. East Carolina Pirates (5-3, 3-0 AAC)
When: Saturday, Jan. 2 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Yuengling Center in Tampa, FL
How to watch/listen: ESPN+, Bulls Unlimited
What to watch for: Can the Pirates hang with the Bulls on the boards? USF is ranked 16th in the nation in rebounding, pulling down an average of almost 48 boards per game. In contrast, ECU has been outrebounded by its opponents, averaging only 33.6 rebounds per game. If this game turns into a gritty, grinding battle, the Bulls should be able to use their dominance of the glass, led by Bethy Mununga and her 10.7 rebounds per game, to put away the Pirates.