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Banged-up USF women finish regular season against No. 1 UConn

South Florida Bulls guard Laia Flores (22) drives toward the basket past Memphis Tigers center Brianna Porter (25) and draws the foul in the second half during the game between the South Florida Bulls and the Memphis Tigers at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. The Bulls beat the Tigers 79-49.
South Florida Bulls guard Laia Flores (22) drives toward the basket past Memphis Tigers center Brianna Porter (25) and draws the foul in the second half during the game between the South Florida Bulls and the Memphis Tigers at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. The Bulls beat the Tigers 79-49.
Published Feb. 27, 2017

TAMPA — Their ranks are in need of more generals.

Fortunately, plenty stand on a sideline or beneath a basket waiting to be summoned. In the recruiting sector, they probably would garner nary a star. But in terms of their value to the USF women's program, these male managers employed as practice bodies are four-star generals.

Without them, coach Jose Fernandez couldn't scrimmage.

"We can't go five-on-five against one another," Fernandez said, "because we don't have enough perimeter players."

Fernandez is down to one healthy point guard, junior Laia Flores. "Healthy" is relative considering she has spent three weeks playing on a banged-up right ankle. Freshman center Tamara Henshaw has stayed in the lineup despite spraining her ankle in a Feb. 14 loss to UCF.

Meantime, freshman perimeter shooter Jazz Bond is nursing back spasms, freshman low-post backup Dorottya Nagy has plantar fasciitis and sophomore scoring leader Kitija Laksa has spent all season with a taped-up shooting hand after dislocating the pinky finger in early December.

Three others projected to contribute have been sidelined all season. Toss in the fact that Fernandez lost four starters from last year's 24-win team, and it all screams regression.

This group (22-6, 11-4 AAC) apparently misread that memo. For the better part of the season, it has screamed resilience.

The Bulls wrap up their regular season with tonight's nationally televised home showdown against top-ranked Connecticut (28-0, 15-0), which has won an NCAA-record 103 games in a row. For any shot at the biggest win in program history, Fernandez's lineup will have to grimace its way through the same script it has often flourished with.

That includes multiple players in double figures, deliberate halfcourt defense, rebounding by committee, consistent trips to the free-throw line and limited fouls. This team leans on screens and ball movement to generate offense.

Three players are averaging at least 12.8 points, led by Laksa (19.7). At 43.1 rebounds per game, the Bulls are averaging 10 more than their foes. Their 454 free-throw tries don't even rank in the top 200 nationally, but they've committed the fourth fewest fouls (345) in the country.

Getting healthier would be gravy.

"It's been a challenging season, to say the least," Fernandez said. "But when you get to coach the kids that I coach, it's rewarding."