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No. 22 USF women face reigning national champ Baylor

The contest in Waco highlights yet another daunting non-conference Bulls schedule.
USF Bulls guard Elisa Pinzan (4) drive to the basket past Jacksonville Dolphins guard Mariah Batz (13) during the first half at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
USF Bulls guard Elisa Pinzan (4) drive to the basket past Jacksonville Dolphins guard Mariah Batz (13) during the first half at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Nov. 18

TAMPA ― While most peers embrace non-conference challenges, veteran USF women’s coach Jose Fernandez bear hugs them. For much of his 20-season tenure, the man hasn’t met a November gauntlet he didn’t relish.

This time, he might have outdone himself.

Fernandez’s never-ending quest to prepare his team for conference play and bolster its RPI enters a new stratosphere of sorts beginning Tuesday, when the No. 22 Bulls (4-0) face reigning national champ Baylor (3-0) in Waco, Texas (8 p.m., ESPN+).

MORE BULLS: USF-UCF to kick off at 8 p.m. on Nov. 29

Six days later, 2019 NCAA runnerup Notre Dame awaits in the Cancun Challenge in Mexico. Then on Dec. 19, the Bulls play No. 10 Mississippi State ― you know, the 2017 and 2018 NCAA runnerup ― in Las Vegas.

“It’s definitely for strength of schedule and RPI and for seeding,” Fernandez said. “But these are the type of (games) I think that you have to prepare your team for to win that second-round NCAA game, to get to that…third game you play in the NCAA tournament. So that’s why we’re doing it.”

With Connecticut leaving the American Athletic Conference (ninth nationally in conference RPI with the Huskies last season) in 2020, scheduling needle-moving RPI games in November and December will become even more imperative down the road.

Yet Fernandez may struggle to top 2019.

The Bulls defeated Texas (15th in the preseason) on Nov. 8, get Florida Gulf Coast (a 28-5 NCAA Tournament team last season) on Nov. 29 in Cancun, and will play either UNLV or Virginia in Vegas two days after facing Mississippi State.

MORE BULLS: USF introduces car giveaway to drum up student turnout

The Bears, who have trampled three woefully overmatched foes by an average of 70.7 points, return five players (three starters) who appeared in last season’s 82-81 NCAA finals win against Notre Dame.

Among that group, however, is 6-foot-4 senior Lauren Cox. The reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a third-team All-American (13.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.6 blocks), Cox is out indefinitely with a foot injury.

“Our team defense has to be really, really good; we’ve got to do a great job on the glass, that’s for sure,” Fernandez said. “They were just so better than all three of their first opponents that they just scored a lot of times on talent alone.”

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  1. The first time they met, Jeff Scott was a 14-year-old following his father's footsteps and Michael Kelly was fresh out of college. A quarter-century later, Kelly has entrusted Scott to take the USF football program to a new level. "I knew instinctively this day would come for him, but I never knew it would align for the two of us to be together,'' Kelly said. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    John Romano | South Florida is a program with little history and loads of potential, and Scott is a hotshot young coach looking to make a name for himself.
  2. New FAU coach Willie Taggart faces one of his old teams, USF, on Sept. 26, 2020 in Boca Raton. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] [JONES, OCTAVIO  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    He moves to his fourth program in the past 36 months. Adding intrigue to the hire, FAU hosts USF in 2020.
  3. (From left) USF Bulls mascot 'Rocky the Bull", new USF football coach Jeff Scott, his wife Sara and their 4-year-old daughter Savannah pose for photos after his announcement at the Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center on Wednesday [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The fifth football coach in USF history seems to hit all the right notes to a standing-room-only crowd
  4. LSU players celebrate after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Atlanta. LSU won 37-10. [JOHN BAZEMORE  |  AP]
    “Members of Congress care about college sports. They recognize how important it is to American society."
  5. Jeff Scott is introduced as the new USF football coach at the Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center in Tampa on Wednesday, [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Signs and sound bites indicate the Clemson co-offensive coordinator was the Bulls’ top choice all along
  6. Jeff Scott is introduced as the new USF Bulls head football coach at the University of South Florida Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, December 11, 2019.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    In fact, here’s how he did it as a Clemson walk-on in 2001
  7. In this Jan. 5 file photo, Clemson Tigers co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott speaks with media during media day at the SAP Center prior to the College Football Playoff national championship game  vs. the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. [ADAM LACY  |  ZUMAPRESS.com]
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  9. New USF coach Jeff Scott has spent the last 12 seasons on the staff at Clemson, his alma mater. [ADAM LACY  |  ZUMAPRESS.com]
    The fifth Bulls coach in program history will appear at the Sam & Martha Gibbons Alumni Center.
  10. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott talks with receivers Mike Williams (7) and Artavis Scott (3) during a 2016 game at FSU. Scott was named USF's coach Monday. [DAVID GROOMS/CAL SPORT MEDIA  |  ZUMAPRESS.com]
    Though not the bay area’s primary recruiter for Clemson, Scott’s fingerprints are all over the region.
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