Hobbling Bulls tread carefully into UConn
Roughly 23 hours after wrapping up their emotional Senior Day triumph against Temple, the Bulls women landed in Storrs, Conn., leaving all of Saturday's pageantry -- and pressure -- behind.
Whereas the Bulls needed that 76-62 victory to secure the American Athletic Conference tournament's No. 2 seed and, perhaps, a more favorable NCAA bracket, no such must-win gravity weighed them down on Sunday's flight to New England. Top-ranked UConn (28-0, 17-0) long ago clinched the AAC regular season title and the tourney's top seed.
"Leave it on the floor," senior Courtney Williams said of her team's mindset entering their Big Monday matchup against the Huskies. "We ain't got nothing to lose, they've got everything to lose."
Hence the reason Bulls coach Jose Fernandez has a lot to ponder before Monday night's tipoff.
Though nothing tangible will be at stake, USF nonetheless will be performing on a national stage against college hoops' resident juggernaut. Any Bull with a competitive corpuscle who enters this game is bound to leave it on the floor.
So whom should Fernandez let on the floor? "I need to find out who's healthy," he said.
Freshman long-range specialist Kitija Laksa (13.4 ppg) still hasn't run on the sprained ankle that kept her out of Saturday's game and will keep her sidelined Monday. Sophomore G/F Laura Ferreira (plantar fascia) was limited to less than six minutes in Saturday's fourth quarter.
And senior PF Alisia Jenkins, while admitting she's "ready to go for Monday," still isn't 100-percent recovered from the bone bruise in her left ankle.
"We've got to see health-wise, how beneficial it is for them to play on Monday night if they're not completely healthy," Fernandez said, "rather than rest them for the conference tournament."
Sitting out all three for part -- or even all -- of Monday's game would give the trio a full week between the Temple contest and the Bulls' opening tournament game Saturday evening in Uncasville, Conn. At this juncture of the season, that type of layoff can be priceless.
Following the Temple victory, Fernandez indicated he's seriously weighing that option. "Without a doubt," he said.
Don't be shocked if Fernandez starts Jenkins and Ferreira, but yanks them quickly if the Huskies -- who will be observing their own senior night -- pull away. If all goes as hoped for the Bulls, they'll get another crack at UConn a week later in the conference tournament final.
By then, maybe the limp won't be so profound.
ATTENDANCE RECORD? According to USF's figures, the Bulls established what is believed to be a program record by totaling 38,839 fans for 16 home games (2,427 average).
Saturday's audience (2,446) was the season's third-highest, trailing only the 4,859 who attended the season opener against Jacksonville (part of a men's/women's doubleheader) and the 6,634 for the Jan. 10 game against UConn. "Our following has been great, and that's what I told our players," Fernandez said.
"Yeah, we're winning and that helps attendance, but I think our kids are great in the classroom, they're great in the community. They stay around, they go out and really promote our program, and they really take the time to get to know our fans. I think it's just really developed."