TAMPA ― Despite arguably the nation’s worst injury outbreak, USF’s women aren’t ready to put their NCAA Tournament aspirations on the shelf, where four of their starters already reside.
Limited to eight healthy players, six if you count two starters with bandaged faces, the Bulls (11-7, 2-2) dominated Tulane (13-5, 3-2) in virtually every significant facet Saturday en route to a 73-46 triumph.
The improbable romp ― only USF’s second victory in its last seven games ― not only astounded a Yuengling Center audience of 2,616, but nearly moved veteran Bulls coach Jose Fernandez to tears.
“My goals for this team haven’t changed one bit, because the work ethic and the character in that locker room has brought it every day,” said Fernandez, who needed several seconds to compose himself before responding to a question about his team’s postseason hopes.
“And my staff and I continue to bring it every day. ... Just because we’ve had adversity, this is still an NCAA Tournament team.”
For the better part of Saturday, it resembled one, despite missing four opening-night starters (three of whom are out for the year).
In light of today’s rout of Tulane, I asked @CoachJFernandez if his injury-ravaged team’s postseason goals remain in play. His response was the most emotional I’ve seen from him. @USFWBB pic.twitter.com/TuH0MgsrtG— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) January 19, 2019
After hitting only five of 17 field-goal attempts in the first quarter, USF went 21-for-44 (47.7 percent) the rest of the game. The Bulls opened the second quarter with a 12-0 run to take a 28-14 lead, holding the Green Wave to two field goals in the period.
Remaining methodical against a Tulane half-court zone, USF committed only 12 turnovers for the game while forcing 18, and out-rebounded the Green Wave, 39-28. It had 17 offensive boards to Tulane’s eight, finishing with a 16-5 advantage in second-chance points.
“I’m happy for the kids because they’ve done a great job responding through all this stuff,” Fernandez said. “I think it’s something that they’re gonna take away from the University of South Florida and use that in the real world.”
Freshman point guard Sydni Harvey (25 points) and sophomore guard Enna Pehadzic (21) posted career-high scoring efforts as the Bulls put four players in double figures.
Six-foot-2 sophomore Shae Leverett, sporting a bandage above her left eye, finished with a double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks) two days after colliding with Pehadzic following a layup in practice. Leverett required three stitches, and Pehadzic had a small bandage on her chin.
“You have to step up. It’s like, next man up is how it is,” Pehadzic said. “That’s what Coach says; he recruits players he trusts, and we all get prepared in practice.”
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.