TAMPA ― For USF fans, a rivalry both compelling and confounding in nature ends this afternoon.
Connecticut’s women, still relatively dominant (20-3, 10-0) even in a down year, make their final Yuengling Center appearance today as a conference foe of the Bulls (2 p.m., ESPN3). The Huskies and their 11 national titles are headed back to the Big East, ending 15 years of conference tussling between Geno Auriemma and Jose Fernandez.
But Fernandez told the Tampa Bay Times last summer the rivalry will continue, and reiterated that Friday.
“We’re already in talks of planning on starting a home-and-home,” he said. “They’re moving to an 18-game (Big East) schedule so they’ve got to juggle around their non-conference schedule a bit here in the next couple of years, but the matchup will continue without a doubt.”
But what if it never began? Imagine a world in which Auriemma, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart never existed.
For USF (15-9, 7-3), such an exercise is as fun as it is futile. For sheer fantasy purposes, here’s a look at how the Fernandez era might appear minus that 0-29 record vs. UConn.
* USF would own three American Athletic Conference regular season titles. The Bulls placed second to UConn in the 2017-18, 2015-16 and 2014-15 seasons.
* They might own as many as four AAC tournament crowns. USF lost to UConn in the tourney final from 2015-18.
* Fernandez’s career record winning percentage would be .590 (it’s currently .562).
* The Bulls would’ve had a 24-game home win streak between 2015-17.
* Fernandez would be the winningest coach in AAC history (158 wins and counting since the league began in 2013).
* Former Bulls perimeter dynamo Courtney Williams might have won two AAC Player of the Year awards. In 2015 and ’16, Williams was a unanimous first-team all-conference pick. The only other unanimous selections in both years were Huskies.
Pretty tantalizing to imagine...or is it?
Sure, the Bulls get more titles in a world without the Huskies, but do they also get the national exposure they’ve enjoyed? Do they get that raucous annual home crowd of 6,000 or so? Do they get some of the international recruits they’ve signed in recent years?
There’s a reason Fernandez wants this rivalry to continue.
“The thing is, players want to play against the best," Fernandez said. “And coaches are motivated for that as well.”