Bulls women struggling on both ends
His raspy 42-year-old voice is soft, almost at a whisper frequency on this afternoon.
Presumably, Jose Fernandez is saving it for the film session or ensuing practice, where he'll undoubtedly reach high octaves exhorting his players to attack the basket and show some pride on defense.
To date, they've done neither with great consistency. As a result, the USF women are off to a more modest start (5-3) than anyone expected.
"I really like our team, I think we're really talented, I think we're deep in a lot of spots," said Fernandez, whose club -- hyped as perhaps the best in school history -- was picked to finish third in its conference in the preseason.
"It's just not (translating) into how we'd like to be playing right now. But that's our job to get these guys better and to continue to improve. I think this team has the ability to do that."
More than a month into the season, the Bulls are shooting 38.6 percent from the floor and an abysmal 24.7 percent (40-for-162) from 3-point range.
Part of that may be attributed to the lingering knee injury of senior sharpshooter Inga Orekhova (8-for-33 from long range), who has since undergone surgery that will sideline her until January. But Fernandez also points to his club's hasty shot selection.
"We've seen zone (defense) all year," he said. "Until we start doing a much better job of attacking things better and not settling for jumpers and knocking open shots down, that's going to continue to happen."
But what seems to irritate Fernandez even more is the collective effort on the other end, where the graduations of elite defenders Andrell Smith and Tiffany Conner have been glaring.
While Fernandez replenished his lineup in the offseason (eight-player signing class), the group clearly hasn't meshed defensively.
"That's just the main primary thing that, being honest, we have to work on," said sophomore F Alisia Jenkins, averaging a double-double (10.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg). "And we've been working on it."
In last week's 60-55 loss at Florida Gulf Coast, the Eagles finished 8-for-19 from long range and hit 13 of 24 field goals in the second half. Ten days before against a short-handed Clemson team, the Tigers milked the clock while the Bulls missed 42 shots.
Clemson, by contrast, finished 27-for-49 from the floor and won 68-63.
"We've got a lot of guys that are playing minutes that have to do a much better job of containing the dribble and taking possessions personal," Fernandez said. "That's what we're struggling with right now."
Alas, a turning point could be three days and one time zone away. The Bulls will have benefited from a five-day layoff when they play at 14th-ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday. Fernandez still believes in his team's abilities, but has seen its vulnerabilities.
"I like this team, I like their attitude, I like their work ethic, but we're not even close to putting it together yet," Fernandez said.
"We can beat anybody in the country but also lose to anybody in the country, the way we're shooting the ball and the way that we're not defending."