Sunday, April 22, 2018
Colleges

USF Bulls, Rutgers both motivated for WNIT semifinal

TAMPA

They each possess 35 games' worth of tape, tendencies and statistical minutiae to dissect, including two games against each other. Yet little of it is likely to matter.

When USF hosts Rutgers in tonight's WNIT semifinal, anger could trump assists, resolve could supersede rebounding, purpose could outweigh paint scoring. The team bearing a bigger grudge at the end wins.

"I think I've got a pretty (ticked)-off team," said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez, whose club split the regular season series with Rutgers. "We went out to eat the other day; they didn't even want dessert."

Stands to reason. More than two weeks after Selection Monday, the Bulls (23-12), winners of 10 of their past 11, still haven't digested the fact they were snubbed from the 64-team NCAA field. For them, winning this tournament is the ultimate way to prove they belonged in the other one.

Tonight, they face a team with the same purpose, and maybe a bit more provocation.

In hindsight, USF's 60-51 win March 3 at Rutgers— which determined third place in the American Athletic Conference — likely knocked the Scarlet Knights (26-9) from the NCAA tourney. For the Knights, this isn't merely about surviving and advancing.

It's about settling and avenging.

"I think they're going to have a lot of animosity because we beat them at home and that's a hard thing to do when it comes to Rutgers," said Bulls sophomore Courtney Williams, who hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Sunday's 60-58 win at Mississippi State.

"I definitely think they're going to come in here playing with a chip on their shoulder. We've just got to send them home the same way we did last time."

FRIENDLY CONFINES: For all the public lacerations he sustained during his chaotic basketball coaching search, new Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan still can claim one redeeming decision in his initial days on the job.

He signed off on the football team's most effective audible this spring: moving Saturday's spring game from Raymond James Stadium to the on-campus soccer complex.

Based on the eye and ear tests, coach Willie Taggart's notion, approved by Harlan, to stage the game in a cozy setting instead of a cavernous one was both out-of-the-box and out-of-the-park.

Even in the wake of steady downpours accompanied by tornado watches, the Corbett Stadium grandstands mostly were filled and the berms surrounding the field strewn with observers. Official attendance was estimated by the school at 2,000, which seemed generous.

What's not disputable is the fact the same number of observers in RayJay would've conveyed all the atmosphere of an open-air mausoleum. But in a bandbox — yes, USF's band played too — players caught a definite crowd vibe.

"Especially with the rain, I couldn't imagine how it would've been down at RayJay," said QB Steven Bench, who shined (317 passing yards, three TDs) in the White team's 35-3 victory.

"But this way all the rain cleared out right before the game, and students could just walk over. I thought it was a great idea and I loved it. The atmosphere was great."

ODDS AND ENDS: For the second consecutive week, sophomore RHP Jimmy Herget earned a spot on the American Athletic Conference honor roll. The Jefferson High alumnus scattered four hits in eight innings, striking out a season-high 11 in Friday's 2-1 win at Cincinnati. … With its 7-0 victory Friday against UCF, the men's tennis team (13-4) ended its home slate with a 10-0 record. The 41st-ranked women's team (13-3) enters Friday's home match against Virginia Commonwealth on a 10-match win streak, its longest in six years. … Riverview High alumnus Michael Babinec was among six USF men's track and field champions at last weekend's UCF Invitational, capturing the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 9 minutes, 37.36 seconds.

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