USF women looking for a little respect

USF seeks to make a name for more than its losses to UConn.
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
South Florida Bulls guard Shalethia Stringfield (23) grabs the loose ball from Connecticut Huskies guard Moriah Jefferson (4) in the first half at the Sun Dome in Tampa on Monday, March 2, 2015.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times South Florida Bulls guard Shalethia Stringfield (23) grabs the loose ball from Connecticut Huskies guard Moriah Jefferson (4) in the first half at the Sun Dome in Tampa on Monday, March 2, 2015.
Published March 21 2015
Updated March 21 2015

TAMPA — They're a physics whiz in the same class with Isaac Newton, innovative sculptors in the same studio as Picasso. Nearly every sparkle is outshined, every feat or flourish trumped.

Here's the USF women's team, on the verge of a record season, yet a segment of the nation wonders if the Bulls (26-7) are even on the verge of relevance. Such is life when you reside in the same league as your sport's dynasty.

"We don't get the credit I feel like we deserve because we're always getting compared to UConn," Bulls scoring leader Courtney Williams said. "Basically, how good our team is is determined by how we play UConn. So that's kind of disturbing."

Williams' agitation seems to possess merit. In the regular season, USF won six games against top-55 RPI teams, including two wins against top-25 programs. It ranks fourth nationally with 30 defensive rebounds a game. It finished 15-3 in the American Athletic Conference.

Yet the Bulls lost their three most visible games of the year, on national TV. Each time, the foe and margin of defeat were the common denominators.

Connecticut, by double digits.

"I think a lot of people forget about what we did in the non-conference (slate)," Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said. "I think when you look at what we've done, those Connecticut games get magnified."

Now, in their own gym, the Bulls have the rare opportunity to burst from that shadow.

The unbeaten Huskies and Bulls share the same region in this NCAA Women's Tournament, but not the same area code this weekend. A win tonight against SEC stalwart LSU, followed by another Monday against No. 3 seed Louisville or No. 14 BYU, finally could garner the sixth-seeded Bulls some nationwide props.

It also would nudge them closer to a fourth meeting with the two-time reigning national champs in the Elite Eight.

"I think being able to play other teams out of our conference will give us a great opportunity to be able to show we're a top 25, which we are now," said Williams, whose squad finished 25th in both major polls after cameos during the season. "We deserve that."

Those who have been watching closely all season might agree.

The Bulls' second win of the season, a 59-57 triumph at Chattanooga, ended the Mocs' 40-game home win streak. That Chattanooga club, a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, later defeated Tennessee and Stanford.

Eleven days later, USF defeated Oklahoma — a five-seed — by 15 at a neutral site. Five of USF's seven losses have been to teams with top-11 RPI rankings. When the Bulls score more than 70, they're 17-0.

"They earned everything they got," LSU sophomore Raigyne Moncrief said.

Now, with nary a Husky lurking anywhere nearby, the Bulls can earn a little something more — like nationwide acclaim.

"First we've just got to knock out LSU," Bulls junior power forward Alisia Jenkins said, "and then show the whole country what we are made of."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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