University of South Florida women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez said he believes the Bulls are worthy of an NCAA tournament at-large bid.
USF’s accomplishments are clear-cut: 20 wins, a 9-7 mark in the Big East, back-to-back wins against nationally ranked teams and victories in five of its last six road games.
But Fernandez won’t leave anything to chance.
The Big East tournament begins today at Hartford, Conn., with the championship game scheduled for Tuesday. When the No. 8-seeded Bulls (20-9, 9-7) open play in Saturday afternoon’s second round against No. 9 Rutgers (16-13, 7-9), USF can make things significantly easier on itself by defeating the Scarlet Knights.
If USF falls against Rutgers … who knows?
“Right now, we control our destiny,” said Fernandez, whose team is aiming for a Sunday afternoon quarterfinal spot against No. 1 Notre Dame. “You don’t want to leave it up to anybody else.”
USF lost 68-56 at Rutgers on Feb. 26, when Scarlet Knights coach C. Vivian Stringer clinched her 900th career victory in an emotionally charged atmosphere.
Getting revenge against Rutgers might be the final ingredient for USF’s NCAA bid, although some prognosticators think the Bulls already have done enough. ESPN’s Charlie Crème, who has been predicting the 64-team women’s field, has USF as a No. 12 seed in his latest projected bracket, with the Bulls facing No. 5 North Carolina at College Station, Texas. Crème has eight Big East teams in his NCAA field.
“We haven’t had any bad losses and we have a couple of really big wins (beating nationally ranked Louisville and Syracuse),’’ Bulls senior guard Andrell Smith said. “If we keep winning, we’ll continue to make a good case for ourselves.’’
Fernandez said USF’s greatest strength rests in the offense created by his top three players – seniors Andrea Smith (16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) and Andrell Smith (13.7 points, 4.8 rebounds), plus junior Inga Orekhova (12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds).
“If we get those three going, we can play with anybody,” Fernandez said. “If we don’t do that, we struggle because that’s where most of our shots are coming from.
“What worries me is having been in this place before, having been on the wrong side of the bubble. We’ve got to shoot the ball with confidence and we’ve got to play well. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”