TAMPA — Andrea has the freckle.
That, if all else fails, is USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez's most reliable clue.
Senior guards Andrea and Andrell Smith are in their third seasons with the Bulls, and he has known them twice as long, but if the identical twins aren't wearing their jerseys and he isn't positive which is which, he'll look at their left cheeks, where Andrea has a telltale mark.
"Still, Coach Jose, sometimes he'll just say 'Twin!' and we both turn around," Andrell said after a practice last week. "It's, ' 'Drea! 'Drell!' I'll say, 'Coach, that's not me.' They still get us confused."
The 22-year-old seniors, starting together and as inseparable now as they were in the womb, have led USF to a 9-2 record heading into tonight's huge Big East opener against No. 2 Notre Dame.
"We're trying to make everything memorable," says Andrell, who wears No. 12 as a mirror image to her sister's No. 21. "We won't get this back. We have this opportunity for a reason. We have to take advantage of it."
The 5-foot-8 guards, who first committed to play at USF in August 2007, are the center of a veteran team that has eight seniors, trying to go out with the second NCAA Tournament berth in the program's history. The Smith twins were stars together at Lake Gibson High in Lakeland and told recruiters they were a package deal.
"Double or nothing," Andrell always told potential coaches. USF offered scholarships and the chance to play less than an hour from home.
The two were committed to playing together. When Andrell posted a qualifying test score and Andrea didn't, they both went to Gulf Coast Community College, where they went 59-4 and won a national junior college championship in 2010.
Injuries nearly threw their eligibility clocks off — Andrell tore the ACL in her left knee three games into her freshman year, taking a redshirt that gave her an extra year to play. In the final game of Andrea's junior year at USF, she tore the same ligament in the same knee ("I have a better-looking scar," Andrell says), forcing her to sit out last season, the blessing being they would have their senior years together this season.
"It's really special. We shared the same injury. I had to go through what she had to go through," Andrea said. "When it happened to me, I learned from her, because she went through it before me. She was there all the time. I value the game a lot more now. I value walking a lot more. I'm blessed to be with her and have this year together."
The twins have worked in tandem as long as their father, Victor, can remember. If anything went wrong around the house, they learned at a young age to blame each other, such that his only effective form of discipline would be to punish both when either did something wrong. "They would always stick up for each other," he said. "And that can get them into trouble."
Andrea, older by five minutes, will tell you Andrell is more outspoken, more feisty. "I love her for that," said Andrea, who considers herself more laid back and shy. "A lot of people think she's older because she takes control of a lot of situations," she said. "I let her. I love when she does that. I just stand off and watch her do her thing."
Andrea was national junior college player of the year in 2010, and in their first year together at USF, Andrea shined, finishing third in the Big East with 16.5 points per game. Back together this season, Andrell has a slight edge in scoring — a difference of eight points in 13 games — averaging a team-best 17.1 points while Andrea averages 16.5; at one point last week Andrell had the team lead in rebounds, assists and steals as well, blossoming as a senior.
"It's amazing. I'm so happy for her to stand out," Andrea said. "Everybody asks, 'Who's better?' and I say Andrell, because she's a good player on the offense and defensive end, and she's a leader. I knew she could do it."
You could say that USF basketball is in their blood. Victor's first cousin, Leon "Leaky" Smith, was one of the Bulls' first African-American basketball players, from 1973-75, after starring at Hillsborough High.
The two have more than a birthdate in common — Andrell's middle name is Shari, Andrea's is Sheri, and they graduated together last spring with matching degrees in communications. They enjoy going through life together, as teammates, as roommates, as sisters, embracing the dual identities that come with being twins.
"We're best friends," Andrea said. "At the end of the day, I'm there for her and she's there for me all the time. It started when we were little. That bond our family instilled in us is something we'll carry forever. That bond can't be broken."