TAMPA — In the end, the difference was razor-thin, perhaps the margin of one game, maybe even one possession.
But on Monday night, University of South Florida women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez found little consolation in that notion.
“A few days will pass and nobody will even remember — or care — that we were on the bubble and probably should’ve gotten a bid,’’ Fernandez said. “I told our players, ‘These are the things that are going to happen to you in life. You’re going to be confronted with some things that are difficult. It’s all in how you handle them.’ ‘’
The Bulls (19-12, 13-5 American Athletic Conference regular season) were not included in the 64-team NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament field. Instead, for the eighth time in the past 11 seasons, USF will be relegated to the WNIT, hosting North Carolina A&T (24-6) on Friday night at the Sun Dome. Game time has yet to be announced.
Carolayne Henry, chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said USF was one of the first four teams out. She cited USF’s 0-8 record against top 50-ranked teams and its pedestrian Ratings Percentage Index number of 57.
“Those were pretty significant factors when you get down to the nitty gritty and you’re trying to determine who’s going to be in and who’s not going to be in,’’ Henry said.
USF fell to No. 3-ranked Louisville 60-56 in the AAC tournament semifinals. Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel hit a tiebreaking pull-up jumper with six seconds remaining, then USF’s ensuing pass was intercepted at midcourt, setting up two clinching Louisville free throws.
Had the Bulls defeated Louisville, it’s possible that alone would’ve pushed USF into the NCAA field.
“Is that really what we’re talking about?’’ Fernandez said. “The committee wants to say we don’t have any top 50 wins. But we played Louisville to single digits twice, we played Maryland to single digits, had to play No. 1 UConn twice, played Middle Tennessee and Oklahoma State when we didn’t have all our players. Let’s have any of the bubble teams do that and see what happens.
“Then what about the eye test? Who would win if USF and Vanderbilt played right now? USF and Florida? USF and Florida State? USF and Saint Joseph’s? … I just think the whole thing is flawed. People don’t watch enough games. I think we clearly were (among the 32 best at-large teams).’’
UConn coach Geno Auriemma had said there “should be an investigation’’ if USF was ultimately omitted from the 64-team field and Louisville coach Jeff Walz called the Bulls “one of the hottest teams in the country.’’
USF was probably hampered by its 5-7 start, which was hampered by a proliferation of early season injuries. Once the Bulls were healthy, the Bulls were 9-3 in their final 12 games, losing only to UConn and Louisville (and Fernandez missed one of those games due to a hospitalization).
Fernandez said he felt badly for his two seniors — guard Inga Orekhova and center Akila McDonald.
Other than that, his mindset is to keep winning. In 2009, the USF women won the WNIT, probably the best moment in the program’s history next to the two at-large NCAA Tournament bids (2006 and 2013).
“I’ve been in that mock bracketing room,’’ Fernandez said. “I know things happen. We did what we could do.
“You’re always emotionally invested in this. We practiced (Monday) and I think that was day 132 of practices, shoot-arounds and games. We put a lot into this. So there’s a level of disappointment. But we get to play more games. Almost all of our players are coming back next season, so here’s a chance to keep getting better.’’