Bulls Beat: Women hope to make Big East tourney run
TAMPA - It was an uphill battle, but the University of South Florida women’s basketball team is on the upswing. Despite playing the entire season without their leading scorer from last season, Andrea Smith — and also weathering a series of additional injuries — the Bulls (16-14, 8-8) will head to the Big East tournament with confidence. USF, the No. 9 seed, faces No. 16 Pittsburgh (8-21, 0-16) on Friday afternoon in Hartford, Conn. Bulls coach Jose Fernandez figures a break-even mark in the Big East should get USF into the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. But he’s entertaining bigger thoughts. "If we can win a few games at the Big East Tournament, who knows?’’ said Fernandez, referring to long-shot hopes of an NCAA tournament bid. "They’d have to give us a look, because I think we play in the nation’s best league.’’USF improved its Big East victories to eight (from three last season). The plus-five represents the biggest conference improvement of any Big East team. If the Bulls win Friday, they would face No.8 DePaul (21-9, 9-7) in Saturday’s second round. USF defeated DePaul, 66-63, in overtime on Jan. 17. From there, the road leads to a Sunday quarterfinal against No.1 Notre Dame (28-2, 15-1), which has a double-bye. USF is led by its only senior, Jasmine Wynne (15.6 points per game), the only returning player from the 2009 WNIT championship team. Then there’s dead-eye outside shooter Inga Orekhova (12.5 ppg), who had 41 3-pointers, despite playing in only 15 games. SEEKING EFFICIENCY: Football coach Skip Holtz believes the shifting of responsibilities on his staff will make for a more efficient offensive approach in 2012. Holtz said offensive coordinator Todd Fitch, also the running backs coach for two seasons, will now work with USF’s quarterbacks. Peter Vaas, the former quarterbacks coach, was reassigned to tight ends. Meanwhile, Larry Scott will shift from tight ends to running backs. Last season, the Bulls were the nation’s 30th-best offense (432.75 yards per game) in the Football Bowl Subdivision, a vast improvement from 105th in Holtz’s first season, although it was rendered somewhat irrelevant by USF’s 5-7 finish. BULLS BITS: USF football recently got a non-binding 2013 verbal commitment from Winter Park High rising senior QB Asiantii Woulard, a teammate of highly touted WR D’Vario Montgomery, who signed with the Bulls on Feb. 1. … Former QB Marquel Blackwell, USF’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,108) and touchdown passes (67), has left the staff after three seasons as a program assistant to pursue other coaching opportunities. … Redshirt freshman OL David Simon has returned to his Alabama home following his hospitalization after having a couple of seizures, his family said. He will continue his USF education online and is hopeful that he can return to the team this summer if medication can control his condition. … Strange last week for the softball team, which is up to No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll. The Bulls defeated Mississippi State, 1-0, scoring their only run when Gina Kafalas beat out a bunt. After the game, the official scorer changed Kafalas’ hit to an error. USF’s appeal was denied, so history will say the Bulls won after getting no hits. … The baseball team (4-4) will take a three-game losing streak into Friday afternoon’s 1:05 exhibition against the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. … After a co-championship in the Big East-Big Ten Challenge, the Bulls went 1-3 on the homestand with North Florida and Bethune-Cookman, then allowed 16 hits in a 12-1 loss at UCF on Tuesday night.