Stakes high as USF women host Houston

GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES   |   TimesSouth Florida Bulls head coach Jose Fernandez talks to his team during a timeout during the first half  against the Ohio State Buckeyes at the USF Sun Dome on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018 in Tampa, FL. The South Florida Bulls beat the Ohio State Buckeyes 84-65.
GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES | TimesSouth Florida Bulls head coach Jose Fernandez talks to his team during a timeout during the first half against the Ohio State Buckeyes at the USF Sun Dome on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018 in Tampa, FL. The South Florida Bulls beat the Ohio State Buckeyes 84-65.
Published February 21 2018

If your alma mater or college of choice has bona fide NCAA Tournament aspirations, the final days of February possess pennant race-style tension.

So it is with the 18th-ranked USF women, whose 7 p.m. home game tonight against Houston has big bracketology implications.

The Bulls (22-5, 11-2), seemingly peaking at the perfect juncture (seven-game win streak), can lock up the No. 2 seed in the upcoming American Athletic Conference tournament with a victory. They also can further fortify their odds of a favorable NCAA seeding.

ESPN women's bracketologist Charlie Creme currently projects USF as a six-seed. A top-60 RPI triumph (Houston is 57th) against a 20-win team would only add luster to USF's resume.

It won't be easy.

The Cougars (20-7, 9-4), winners of five of their last six, press…and press…and press. They rank seventh nationally in steals (319) and ninth in 3-point percentage defense. Four players own double-figure scoring averages, led by sophomore Jasmyne Harris (20.4 ppg).

For USF, coming off a 20-turnover effort in Sunday's overtime win at UCF, protecting the ball will be a prerequisite. The Bulls also will have to work harder for open looks on the perimeter, which could drain a rotation that has been limited to eight players lately.

Related: Bulls women slip past UCF in overtime

Expect high intensity and high pressure, accompanied by high stakes.

You can smell March from here.

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