GazetteXtra Print Article Logo URL:

USF’s Jose Fernandez named AAC coach of the year

By Joey Knight
GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES | TimesUSF women's coach Jose Fernandez has led the Bulls to a 24-6 record and No. 2 seeding in the American Athletic Conference tournament.

For the first time in his 18 seasons as USF women's coach, Jose Fernandez has received the highest honor from his peers.

Fernandez, who will lead the No. 20 Bulls (24-6, 13-3) to an unprecedented fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance later this month, has been selected the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, the league announced Saturday morning.

Additionally, junior Kitija Laksa (20.7 ppg), the Bulls' top scorer and nation's top free-throw shooter (96.3 percent), has been named the AAC's Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women's basketball. The award is presented on the basis of athletic credentials and athletic performance.

Laksa and teammate Maria Jespersen were named to the All-AAC first team on Friday.

Related: USF's Maria Jespersen, Kitija Laksa named first-team All-AAC

As a result of his honor, Fernandez receives a $25,000 performance bonus, according to the terms of his contract, which was extended through 2023 last year. He becomes the first Bulls women's coach to receive a league coach-of-the-year award since Trudi Lacey in 1989, when USF was in the Sun Belt Conference.

Related: USF extends Jose Fernandez's contract

Fernandez, 46, has led USF to six consecutive 20-win seasons. This year's squad, which faces SMU or East Carolina in Sunday's 2:30 p.m. AAC quarterfinal, has a realistic shot at tying the program's single-season record of 27 victories.

Should they reach Tuesday's AAC Tournament final and play a competitive game against top-ranked Connecticut, they conceivably could be in line to host an NCAA opening weekend for the second time in four seasons.

"I have 'em as a six (seed), but…I still think they might be in play for a top-four seed if things break the right way," ESPN women's bracketologist Charlie Creme told Orlando-based radio host and producer Eric Lopez on a recent podcast.

"Their RPI number really jumped up (14) when they played UConn (an 82-53 regular season loss on Monday), and they have five top-50 (RPI) wins. … They're an interesting team because they've got some numbers that would say, 'Well maybe a hosting situation is not out of the question.' But they haven't been mentioned by the (NCAA selection) committee at all in any of the reveals…and I think they're a little bit on the outside looking in."