Fernandez: 'It's April and we're still playing'
Six teams are still playing in women's college basketball, and USF coach Jose Fernandez is proud to have one of them, as his Bulls are playing in Saturday's Women's NIT Championship at Kansas after getting their fourth straight win Wednesday at Boston College.
"It's April and we're still playing," said Fernandez, whose team will continue a weeklong road trip, flying directly from Boston to Kansas today to prepare for Saturday's tipoff at 2 p.m. ET. "To have 26 wins is a great season, and our players are excited. I'm really happy for them."
The Bulls (26-10) continue to play their best basketball on the road -- Boston College is the sixth top-50 team USF has beaten this season, and all six have come away from Tampa. Fernandez said the common thread in the team's four WNIT wins has been a strong surge from a motivated team after halftime.
"We've had second-half surges in every game," said Fernandez, whose team trailed by six early in the second half Wednesday. "The kids have come out of the locker room playing well. The seniors don't want it to be the last 20 minutes of their careers, and I think our conditioning has a role in that, too."
Playing Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse will present a tougher road challenge for the Bulls -- Boston College drew just 702 fans for Wednesday's game, while Kansas had 8,360 for its semifinal against Illinois State. The Jayhawks' biggest wins this season have come at home, beating Baylor, Iowa State and Iowa in the regular season and getting three home wins in the WNIT.
"Going to Kansas will be one of the biggest crowds we've had all year," Fernandez said. "St. Bonaventure had an unbelievable atmosphere, but at Boston College, the crowd wasn't a factor, though it's still on the road."
Kansas has the Big 12's No. 2 scorer in 5-11 guard Danielle McCray, a 43 percent 3-point shooter, and a solid rebounder in 6-5 center Krysten Boogaard. The Jayhawks were worst in the Big 12 in turnover margin, a statistic that has been one of USF's strengths this season.
USF's leading scorer in Wednesday's win was junior guard Janae Stokes, who has not practiced with the team in the past week since her mother, Lynn, was hospitalized in Atlanta with an unexpected but undisclosed condition. Her mother spent time in intensive care, but is "doing much better," Fernandez said. Stokes flew up to join her teammates just before the St. Bonaventure and Boston College games, and came through with five 3-pointers against the Eagles on the way to scoring 22 points.
Fernandez said he's been pleased by his team's ability to find a hot shooter -- almost a different player in every game -- and continue to get them the basketball in position to score.
"Our team has been very unselfish with the ball," he said. "If somebody has it going, we're going to find them."