He still may be trying to gain endurance for the season's stretch run, but Jose Fernandez by now surely has the speed. Based on his leaner look, he may be among his conference's toughest coaches to guard.
It just took nausea and a nasty infection — among other ailments — to reach this point.
"It's definitely not the right way to lose 17 or 18 pounds, that's for sure," USF's 14th-year women's basketball coach said.
Roughly 48 hours after his second hospitalization in two weeks, Fernandez returned Sunday, standing throughout a 63-38 loss to No. 1 UConn.
"I'm just tired," said Fernandez, who this month has battled a recurrence of diverticulitis, a fever, throat infection and allergic reaction to medication.
"It's tough being away from your team, tough being in the hospital for the (five nights) I was in there. … I thought our kids fought and competed, played with energy, effort."
Woefully inconsistent in November and December, when it battled greenness, injuries and instability at point guard, USF (13-11, 8-5 American Athletic Conference) is back in postseason contention.
Barring a collapse, the Bulls are a lock for the WNIT. A second straight NCAA Tournament berth is conceivable if they win out in the regular season and reach 20 wins by advancing to the conference tournament final. USF, fourth in the American, could overtake Rutgers (20-5, 11-3) in the regular-season finale.
"We've just got to regroup and get back on the road … and continue to fight to finish in the top four in this league and get that (first-round) bye," Fernandez said. "We definitely want to be on the other side of the bracket (opposite UConn)."
After experimenting with lineups early on, Fernandez has used the same starters in seven of the past eight games. Senior G Inga Orekhova, sidelined early with a torn meniscus that required surgery, is averaging 14 points in her past five games.
Sophomore Alisia Jenkins leads the American in rebounding (10.1). Classmate Courtney Williams, who struggled to play within Fernandez's system in the first month, has blossomed into an all-conference candidate (15.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
"They're probably … one of the hardest teams to defend because of how much stuff they run and how many things they do to get players shots, and how they isolate guys one-on-one," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
Which is to say, if Fernandez and his kids can remain healthy, a memorable March could loom.
WEEKEND SWEEP: For the third time in the Lelo Prado era, the Bulls baseball team started 3-0. Despite stranding 31 runners, USF collected 25 runs and 40 hits in victories over Richmond, Liberty and North Florida last weekend in Jacksonville.
Sophomore Luke Maglich finished 7-for-14 with a home run and five RBIs during the weekend. Classmate Jimmy Herget brandished the form he showed as 2013 Big East rookie of the year, scattering five hits over seven innings in Saturday's 2-1 win against Liberty.
On Monday, both were named to the American Athletic Conference's weekly honor roll.
BULL BITS: USF's men's indoor triple jump record recently was broken twice in as many Saturdays. Sophomore Matthew O'Neal broke Antillio Bastian's 5-year-old mark with an effort of 51 feet, 5.57 inches on Feb. 8 in New York City, only to be eclipsed by Shane Lewis (52-3.3) last weekend in Albuquerque, N.M. … Softball ace Sara Nevins, 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA in 27 innings last weekend, was named the conference pitcher of the week. … Outgoing athletic director Doug Woolard will be inducted in the Carbondale (Ill.) Community High School Athletics Hall of Fame in August. A three-sport athlete, he won 265 games as boys basketball coach and was the school's AD by age 28.