The USF women's basketball team will need a new motivational speech from its coach at halftime today, even though the old one has worked well.
For the past four games in the Women's NIT, coach Jose Fernandez has asked his four senior starters — guards Shantia Grace and Jazmine Sepulveda and post players Jessica Lawson and Brittany Denson — whether they want the next 20 minutes to be the last of their college careers.
Today, as the Bulls play in the WNIT championship game at Kansas, they know their seasons will end, so Fernandez has another question for his players: How do you want to be remembered?
"It's April and we're still playing," said Fernandez, whose team hasn't been home in more than a week, playing games at St. Bonaventure, Boston College and now Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse, which could have 10,000 fans on hand. "To have 26 wins is a great season, and our players are excited. I'm really happy for them."
The Bulls (26-10) continue to play their best basketball on the road — Boston College is the sixth top-50 team USF has beaten this season, and all six have come away from Tampa.
Fernandez said the common thread in the team's four WNIT victories has been a strong surge from a motivated team after halftime.
"We've had second-half surges in every game," said Fernandez, whose team trailed by six early in the second half Wednesday in Boston.
While seniors have led the way in USF's postseason run, the top scorer Wednesday was junior guard Janae Stokes, who had not practiced with the team in the past week.
Stokes' mother, Lynn, was hospitalized in Atlanta with an unexpected but undisclosed condition. She spent time in intensive care but is "doing much better," Fernandez said. Stokes flew to join her teammates just before the past two games and came through with five 3-pointers against BC on the way to scoring 22 points.