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USF women happy about seed, puzzled by placement in NCAA Tournament

Courtney Williams records her team's celebration after their NCAA tournament announcement at the University of South Florida Sun Dome on Monday evening, March 14, 2016 in Tampa. The Bulls are seeded sixth, and will be playing Saturday night against Colorado State in Los Angeles.
Courtney Williams records her team's celebration after their NCAA tournament announcement at the University of South Florida Sun Dome on Monday evening, March 14, 2016 in Tampa. The Bulls are seeded sixth, and will be playing Saturday night against Colorado State in Los Angeles.
Published Mar. 15, 2016

TAMPA — They haven't reached the point where an NCAA Tournament berth remains a rite of March. For USF's women, it's still more novelty than formality.

Hence the whoops, hugs and high-fives when the Bulls, flanked by a couple hundred fellow observers at the Sun Dome Arena Club, saw their name pop up in the waning stretch of Monday night's NCAA Tournament selection show.

But when the initial bliss subsided, bewilderment set in.

In a best-case scenario, the Bulls (23-9) — a No. 6 seed in the Bridgeport, Conn., region — are staring at a fourth meeting this calendar year against three-time defending national champion Connecticut in the Elite Eight.

"There's only two teams from the American Athletic Conference (in the field) and you put 'em both in the same region," said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez, whose team opens Saturday night against No. 11 seed Colorado State in Los Angeles, where No. 3 seed UCLA hosts the first two rounds.

"Last year we were in Connecticut's region as well. That's the only thing. I like the seed, I thought we were deserving of a six, but that's my only question."

Chris Dawson, chairperson of the Division I women's selection committee, explained that having the Bulls and Huskies in the same region was largely a function of the need to separate teams in other conferences that had larger tournament representations.

She added that a potential fourth USF-UConn game would meet the committee's bracketing principle of not having teams from the same league meet until the region final.

"The Pac-12 had four teams in the top 16 (overall seeds). The SEC, ACC and Big Ten each had three," Dawson explained.

"So as we attempted to separate them and also meet some of the other bracketing principles that we have, including not having repeats of regular-season games for example, South Florida wound up in the Bridgeport region."

That logistical glitch aside, the bracketology appears to shape up favorably for the Bulls, among five teams from Florida in the field. Three of them — Florida State, Miami and Florida — are No. 5 seeds.

USF, which hasn't entered a game at full strength since Jan. 5, will head into its opening-round game having not played in 11 days. Six of its defeats, including three against UConn, have come with a shorthanded squad.

But everyone should be available when they head to California. Additionally, their top scorer (Courtney Williams), top rebounder (Alisia Jenkins) and starting point guard (Shalethia Stringfield) are seniors.

"They're a veteran team," said Fernandez, whose club is making its third NCAA appearance in four seasons, and fourth overall.

"They know what's at stake. Your next game could be your last. We've got to go a lot farther than Colorado State does to L.A., that's for sure."

Survive southern California, and an even more arduous journey — to Bridgeport — beckons.

"We've got some games to win before we get there," Fernandez said. "It all starts with our preparation for Colorado State."

FSU, whose 25-7 record and sparkling RPI (14) had some pegging the Seminoles as an opening-round host, instead travels to College Station, Texas. The 'Noles, who face Middle Tennessee at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, have won at least one NCAA Tournament game in each of their past 12 appearances.

"It's very disappointing (not to host) but we still have a lot of work to do," FSU coach Sue Semrau said.

The Gators (22-7) open play in the Sioux Falls, S.D., region at noon Friday against 12th-seeded Albany at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. The berth is the Gators' fourth under ninth-year coach Amanda Butler.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.