USF women's hoops making most of WNIT run
TAMPA -- Much like a football team gaining from the extra practices leading up to a bowl game, USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez recognizes that the benefits of an extended run in the Women's NIT may be more for next year's Bulls than this year's team.
"We only have one senior playing for us, so we're really using this tournament to be a springboard for next year," said Fernandez, whose 19-15 team plays Friday night at James Madison (26-7) in the WNIT's third round. "We were fortunate to be able to host two games at home and took care of business, and now there's only 16 teams left."
The Bulls (19-15) entered the season hoping for more than another WNIT trip -- this is their seventh appearance in nine seasons -- but leading scorer Andrea Smith had to redshirt after knee surgery, and the team has been shorthanded beyond that for much of the year. They opened the WNIT with home wins against Florida Atlantic and Florida International despite losing point guard Sasha Bernard, a key reserve, to a torn ACL.
If USF is to continue extending its season, the Bulls will have to do so on the road. Should the Bulls beat James Madison (which has the highest RPI left in the WNIT field, at No. 35), they'll go directly to Virginia (which beat Appalachian State on Thursday) to play in the next round Sunday.
"They're very similar to us, very athletic, very long. They've got good perimeter guys that can put it down on the floor," Fernandez said. "The road doesn't bother us. We've played at Connecticut and Notre Dame, so we're excited about anyone we could play in this tournament."