TAMPA — The thing that stuck with Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu in March was the disappointment. Losing to archrival UCF in the American Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament stung in the moment. What lingered with the USF forward for most of the offseason, however, was the disappointment in herself and her team.
“We were just down, and it was devastating,” Fankam Mendjiadeu said. “That’s just how I felt. I was disappointed for how bad we played and all that.”
On Sunday, Fankam Mendjiadeu and the Bulls made sure they didn’t wake up this morning with the same regret.
The 6-foot-4 native of Cameroon dominated inside as USF ran over UCF 83-51 at Yuengling Center in the first meeting between the teams this season.
Fankam Mendjiadeu, a senior, pulled down 13 rebounds — 12 on the defensive boards — and scored 18 points to anchor a run-and-gun offense that overwhelmed UCF.
Elena Tsineke led USF with 21 points, freshman Carla Brito had 13, and Sammie Puisis went 3-for-7 from 3-point range for 12 points as the Bulls racked up their eighth straight win. USF (18-4) improved to 7-0 in the conference. It has won 11 of its last 13 games, and its two losses came to nonconference foes North Carolina State, then ranked No. 8, and Ohio State, then ranked No. 3.
This is the process of building on the disappointment not just of last season’s losses to UCF — which beat USF in all three of their meetings — but also of not getting recognized among the top teams in the country this season. The Bulls received votes in the Associated Press poll last week but not enough to put them in the top 25.
“This program has been ranked plenty of times in the top 25. What do we get for it?” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “It’s great. It’s great for a university athletic program. I think some of our guys feel disrespected. We’ve got two top 25 wins (against ranked-at-the-time Texas and Arkansas). And there’s some (teams) in there that didn’t play the schedule we have.
“But again, that’s out of our control.”
If USF keeps controlling games like it did against UCF — a game a few more poll voters might have seen since it was televised on ESPNU — the Bulls could be looking at a top 25 ranking soon.
They jumped out to a 15-2 lead in the first 6:15 and never really looked back. Only the third quarter was competitive, with UCF edging USF 13-11. Even in the fourth, when the Bulls pulled their starters and let their bench players get time, they romped to a 26-14 advantage.
It was a solid win, but even with the history of last year’s losses, the Bulls didn’t see it as anything more than a conference win that advanced them closer to their goal of playing on the national stage in the postseason.
“It’s all right. I mean, we’re not done yet,” Tsineke said. “So we’ve just got to focus on the next game. A win is a win. It’s really good we won, and of course, (UCF has) something that we want to get it back. So it’s always good to win.”
It all started with the Bulls’ defense Sunday.
USF held UCF to 31% shooting from the floor and 20 points from inside the paint. That is where Fankam Mendjiadeu really can put her mark on a game and will her team to an advantage.
“When she rebounds, it lets us start our (fast) break so much easier,” Fernandez said. “We can handle it, and we can go with it. … Just look at our fast-break points.”
The Bulls outscored UCF 21-0 on the break, and that starts with getting control of the ball off the defensive boards.
Asked what part of her game she was most proud of, Fankam Mendjiadeu said, “The rebounding.”
“Because it’s effort. You’ve got to really go at it. You make your mind that, ‘OK, I’m going to blow her out, and I’m going to go to get the rebound.’ That was the one that really made me proud.”
Contact Kristie Ackert at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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