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USF women face must-win game tonight at Temple ... and every night henceforth

A mediocre showing in non-conference play has hindered the Bulls’ NCAA Tournament hopes.
USF women's coach Jose Fernandez, talking with guard Enna Pehadzic (0) during the Bulls' season-opening win against Jacksonville, leads his team into a critical American Athletic Conference game tonight at Temple. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
USF women's coach Jose Fernandez, talking with guard Enna Pehadzic (0) during the Bulls' season-opening win against Jacksonville, leads his team into a critical American Athletic Conference game tonight at Temple. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jan. 16
Updated Jan. 16

A single-elimination state of mind ― March mentality for short ― already has set in for USF’s women. Tonight’s game at Temple? An absolute must-win. Sunday at home against UCF? Gotta have it.

Upcoming dates with Wichita State, Tulane and Houston? Critical, critical and ― you guessed it ― critical.

One more regular season defeat against anyone not coached by Geno Auriemma, and USF could find itself NIT-bound (or banished). To be sure, it’s a tenuous spot in which the Bulls exist these days.

And they have only themselves to blame.

Related: Attrition strikes USF women's basketball team again

Because of the American Athletic Conference’s dearth of NCAA Tournament-caliber clubs, the unranked Bulls (10-6, 2-0) were counting on a degree of success in their unyielding non-conference schedule to bolster their March resume. But success was minimal.

Outside of a home victory against then-No. 15 Texas in its second game, USF has no quality wins. As a result, the Bulls are 74th in the most recent RPI standings. Of the teams they have defeated, the Longhorns (68th) have the best current RPI.

Particularly back-breaking were three losses in as many days to South Dakota State (91st in RPI), Florida Gulf Coast (35th) and reeling Notre Dame (125th) in the Cancun Challenge in November. A 25-point loss to Mississippi State (13th) in Las Vegas, followed by a 10-point loss to UNLV (204th), worsened matters.

Not surprisingly, the Bulls are nowhere to be found on ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme’s latest 64-team projection. For that matter, neither is any other AAC team not nicknamed the Huskies.

So how can the Bulls claw their way back into tourney contention? A win against UConn (No. 4 RPI), which seems more plausible than previous years, would be seismic. The Bulls will have at least two shots at the Huskies (Feb. 16 at home, March 2 away) not counting the league tournament.

Outside of that, their odds appear grim. Temple (51st) and UCF (64th) own the league’s second- and third-best RPIs. After USF, no other AAC team is ranked better than 115.

Hence the must-win mode in mid-January, starting at Temple (7 p.m., ESPN3). If the Bulls can go 14-2 or ― dare we suggest ―15-1 in league play, then reach the AAC tourney final, their NCAA hopes remain reasonable. But what they absolutely cannot do is lose to anyone not named UConn the rest of the way.

Single-elimination starts now.

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