USF women make NCAA Tournament as No. 10 seed
TAMPA -- Jose Fernandez knows the NCAA Tournament bubble all too well, so it was a long week of waiting for USF's women's basketball coach before Monday's NCAA selection show.
He went fishing several times, but still could only think of the tournament.
He went to see Kenny Chesney in concert but barely heard a song, tuning all three TVs in the suite to college basketball.
Then Monday night, he and the Bulls got the big catch they wanted, and the show they really wanted to see. For just the second time in the program's history, USF is playing in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls made the cut easily as a No. 10 seed and will play Saturday afternoon at seventh-seeded Texas Tech in Lubbock.
"It was amazing to see our name get called. I was shocked," said senior guard Andrell Smith, who was confident going in, but surprised to see USF pop up in the first regional revealed live on ESPN at a gathering of players, coaches and fans at the Sun Dome. "I've been nervous. At night, I just can't wait to get up the next morning. I couldn't wait, and now we're here. Now we can move forward. I love this."
USF (21-10, 9-7 in Big East) had a confident week of waiting, remembering two wins against ranked opponents and a strong finish with a win at Georgetown, then against Rutgers in the Big East tournament. The Bulls have practiced this week with focus and eagerness, Fernandez said, not like a team unsure of its future.
"I think they knew they would be playing," said Fernandez, who has had to settle for the Women's NIT seven times in the last 10 seasons. "Our first year in the Big East conference, '05-06, we went to the NCAA Tournament, and now we're leaving the Big East and going to the NCAA Tournament. ... The credit goes to the young ladies over here. They've been relentless. Their work ethic has been tremendous. This is a reward for them. We have plenty of basketball left to play this year. It's been our goal all year. 'March' has been our slogan, and they achieved it."
Much like USF's men a year ago, the Bulls have a chance for their first-ever NCAA Tournament win, and just as the men's team won its first two games a year ago, the Bulls are eager to do more than just show up.
"You make the most of it. We see that every game means something," Smith said. "You don't want to go home on the first game. You don't want to go home on the second game. I saw a show last night, "Survive and Advance," so I think we'll take that as motivation."