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Irish, Gamecocks potentially await USF women this weekend

The USF women's basketball team's daunting non-conference schedule resumes this weekend at the Gulf Coast Showcase.
In an effort to fortify his 17th-ranked team's RPI, USF women's coach Jose Fernandez has stocked his non-conference schedule with formidable competition. (ANDRES LEIVA | Times)
In an effort to fortify his 17th-ranked team's RPI, USF women's coach Jose Fernandez has stocked his non-conference schedule with formidable competition. (ANDRES LEIVA | Times)
Published Nov. 23, 2017

The extended Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, with Christmas on deck. A season of bountiful dining, though some are wondering if Jose Fernandez has bitten off a bit more than he can chew.

One thing's certain: There's not a cream puff or cupcake to be found on his proverbial plate.

In an effort to fortify his veteran team's RPI, Fernandez — in his 18th season as USF women's coach — has loaded his non-conference schedule with formidable opposition.

"You return four starters and you have (redshirt junior) Laura Ferreira back (from a plantar fascia injury), we should be playing the type of schedule we're playing," Fernandez said. "I think I'd be doing a disservice to this team if we didn't schedule the way that we schedule."

The stern challenges began opening night, when the Bulls defeated LSU 61-55 at home, and continue in earnest this weekend at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero.

USF (4-0), currently ranked 17th, faces Washington State — a WNIT Final Four team last season — Friday at 5 p.m. at Germain Arena. If they defeat the Cougars, they'll almost certainly play sixth-ranked Notre Dame in Saturday's semifinals.

Reigning national champ South Carolina lurks on the other side of the bracket. Conceivably, the Bulls could face the Gamecocks in Sunday's final.

Games against 2016 NCAA Tournament qualifiers Oklahoma (Dec. 9, away) and Dayton (Dec. 20 in New Orleans) also loom.

"If we want any opportunity to host (an NCAA Tournament opening weekend) and be one of the top 16 seeds, I think we needed to play this type of schedule," Fernandez said.

"Now, when you get into January and February, you've got to take care of business in league play. But…you want as many high-RPI opportunities as possible, and this schedule does that."

Though their bench has been shortened by injuries to this point, the Bulls boast nearly a 2-to-1 assist-turnover ratio (67 assists, 39 turnovers), and are averaging 51.8 rebounds to their opposition's 38.5.

The bench will be fortified when 5-foot-9 G Enna Pehadzic — a former Denmark under-18 national team member coming off knee surgery– is cleared some time in December; and Northern Arizona transfer Alyssa Rader becomes eligible in a couple of weeks. Rader was the Big Sky Conference's Outstanding Freshman in 2015-16.

"I think we've defended, we've rebounded, we've taken care of the ball (fewer than 10 turnovers a game)," Fernandez said. "When you defend and you rebound and you don't give teams extra possessions, you're gonna give yourself a pretty good opportunity to win a lot of ball games."

Gulf Coast Showcase
Where/when: Germain Arena, Estero, Friday-Sunday
Friday's games: St. John's vs. Western Michigan, 11 a.m.; South Carolina vs. Rutgers, 1:30 p.m.; No. 17 USF vs. Washington State, 5:30 p.m.; No. 6 Notre Dame vs. East Tennessee State, 7:30 p.m.
(Broadcast info can be found here)


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