Road to 300: Jose Fernandez's 5 biggest USF wins
He was only 29 when fate fed him the opportunity of a lifetime -- a Division I head coaching gig.
Jose Fernandez, then a first-year Bulls assistant, was given a two-year contract and the reins to USF's foundering program in the wake of predecessor Jerry Ann Winters' scandalous resignation in October 2000. USF finished 4-24 that season, the program's worst ever.
Nearly a generation later, the mediocrity -- and much of Fernandez's hairline -- have receded. Tuesday night against Memphis, the 45-year-old married dad of a built-in basketball team (five girls) can earn victory No. 300.
For those scoring at home, that's a .567 winning percentage (299-228), with 12 postseason berths. Subtract that first season, and Fernandez has averaged nearly 19 wins during his tenure in Tampa.
"I've been here 17 years so I should be able to have won a lot of games in 17 years," Fernandez cracked. "I've had a lot of good players and a lot of good players on this team. You don't win those games without good players and great people that you work with."
In recognition of the impending milestone, we've chosen what we deem the five biggest wins of Fernandez's tenure (in no particular order). See if you agree with our list:
USF 71, Texas Tech 70
March 23, 2013 (Lubbock, Texas)
How can the program's first NCAA Tournament win be omitted from this list? Sharpshooter Inga Orekhova's 3-pointer from the corner tied the score at 66-all with 1:09 to play, and the Bulls hit five of six free throws the rest of the way to clinch a watershed moment in local women's hoops.
USF 73, LSU 64
March 21, 2015 (Sun Dome)
Unquestionably the most significant home victory of the Fernandez era. A Sun Dome crowd of 5,560 watched USF win the program's second NCAA Tournament game behind junior Courtney Williams (17 points, 12 boards) and clutch free-throw shooting (22-of-29). The boisterousness hit a crescendo when Laura Ferreira hit two 3-pointers in a 24-second span at the outset of the second half, giving the hosts a 12-point lead. "I thought the roof on this place was gonna go off," Fernandez said.
USF 75, Kansas 71
April 4, 2009 (Lawrence, Kan.)
The largest crowd ever to watch a Bulls or Jayhawks women's game (16,113) packed Allen Fieldhouse for this WNIT final. Behind tourney MVP Shantia Grace (16 points, five assists), the Bulls captured the school's first postseason championship of any kind. The triumph capped a 27-10 season that probably should've ended in the NCAAs. (It wouldn't be the last time a Fernandez team was snubbed by the NCAA committee.)
USF 60, Mississippi St. 58
March 30, 2014 (Starkville, Miss.)
The legend of Courtney Williams may very well have been spawned in this WNIT semifinal. The host Bulldogs had taken a one-point lead with 4.2 seconds to play when Williams -- then a sophomore enjoying a breakout season -- took the inbounds pass, drove downcourt and hoisted the winning 3-pointer from the right wing.
USF 89, TCU 84
Feb. 2, 2004 (Sun Dome)
Fernandez's first win against a ranked team was a doozy. Freshman Jessica Dickson scored 20 in regulation to rally USF from an 11-point hole, hit a desperation 35-foot heave at the end of the first overtime, then scored nine in the second to finish with 36 points. Dickson, of course, remains the program's career scoring leader.