TAMPA — The USF women's basketball team is eager to commemorate its WNIT championship and school-record 27 wins, but the first priority is getting coach Jose Fernandez healthy and back with the team.
Fernandez, 37, had to abruptly leave work Monday morning after suffering severe abdominal pains, with associate coach Jeff Osterman handling practice. After a visit to the doctor and tests, Fernandez has been home and resting the past two days, but it's unknown when he'll be able to return.
If Fernandez isn't able to coach Friday night's opener against Florida A&M, the Bulls will put off plans to raise a banner to the Sun Dome rafters commemorating last season's success. A planned promotion will give the first 500 fans in attendance a T-shirt showing the WNIT banner.
With eight newcomers joining a returning nucleus from last season, the Bulls are ready to put last year's accomplishments in the past and focus on improving on them in the next four months.
"I think the banner going up will finally put last year to bed, and that's kind of the message we've had to get through: It's been a great ride, but that's last year," Osterman said. "Most of these kids can step back and appreciate it because they really weren't part of it."
USF dominated most of its nonconference schedule last season, winning its first four games by at least 48 points and five others by 39 or more. Changing to a new lineup may take away some of that lopsidedness, but the Bulls feel that could help them prepare for closer games in Big East play.
"I don't think early on we're going to open up and score 110 and win by 50. I think we're in for some dogfights early," Osterman said. "We'll get tested early and often and hopefully get us ready for the Big East."
Lil' unit: The most intriguing winter addition to the baseball program looks to be walk-on Andrew Barbosa, a 6-foot-8 junior left-hander who was drafted in the 15th round out of Riverview High in 2006. He has been limited by shoulder surgery the past two seasons at South Florida Community College but looked promising in Game 2 of USF's "Fall World Series" intrasquad scrimmage. He lasted five innings, striking out four and giving up just three hits.
"He's in a very good situation," said Rick Hitt, Barbosa's coach at SFCC. "We had high expectations for him, and hopefully for him, everything's coming together. We knew when his arm recovered to 100 percent, he could be something really special."
This and that: All Pinellas County students in grades K-12 can get into next week's USF football game against Louisville for free by picking up a voucher at Play It Again Sports locations in Pinellas or at their school. USF has discounted its $25 seats to $18 for adults as well. … The men's soccer team lost in penalty kicks to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, but the Bulls are in good position to earn a top-16 seed and first-round bye when the NCAA Tournament's 48-team bracket is announced Monday. As a top-16 team, the Bulls would host a second-round match but would likely be on the road for the next two rounds.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.