Ranked and idle, not an ideal situation for the USF women

The No. 13 Bulls will go almost a month between games, but are trying to remain focused on the bigger picture.
USF guard Sydni Harvey, right, works toward the basket during the second half of a Dec. 1 game against Baylor at the Yuengling Center in Tampa.
USF guard Sydni Harvey, right, works toward the basket during the second half of a Dec. 1 game against Baylor at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 27, 2021

TAMPA — The USF women’s basketball team had taken more coronavirus tests (exceeding 80) than it had held team practices. The Bulls were — and this is not to be underestimated — extra careful when it came to COVID-19.

They didn’t want anyone to get sick, and they didn’t want to hamper what could possibly be the best season in school history.

Things were going well, to say the least. On Jan. 14, the USF women were 10-1 and 7-0 in the American Athletic Conference. They also were ranked No. 13 in the country with their only loss coming against No. 4 Baylor, 67-62, in the second week of the season.

“I thought we were really getting into a flow after (the victories over) Houston and Tulane (on Jan. 9 and 13),” coach Jose Fernandez said. “And then, well, we had complications.”

Coronavirus complications.

Related: USF’s Kristyna Brabencova balances MS diagnosis, basketball career

First came a cancellation of the Memphis game (Jan. 17) followed by a postponement at Wichita State (Jan. 20) — both because of coronavirus issues related to those schools.

Then USF’s women finally had coronavirus issues of their own, leading them to postpone games at East Carolina (Jan. 23) and at home against Temple (Wednesday) and Cincinnati (Saturday), followed by a cancellation at SMU (Feb. 3).

The Bulls’ next game? That’s set for Feb. 7 at UCF. It will be their first in 25 days.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that USF has not practiced or met since Jan. 21, a stint that will continue until doctors and school officials rule it is safe to resume the former daily routine.

“Strange indeed,” Fernandez said. “All we can do is the best we can, which means staying as mentally, physically and emotionally strong as we possible can. We must remember that we still have a lot to play for (namely a spot in the NCAA Tournament, which the Bulls last made in 2018).”

In the meantime, that means instead of dribbling and passing in the Yuengling Center, players such as Elena Tsineke (12 points per game), Sydni Harvey (10.5), Maria Alvarez (10.2) and Bethy Mununga (10.2) will have to focus on zoom classes and figuring out at-home ways to stay fit and sharp.

“Somehow we will find a way to get in some form of basketball shape from the time we time we return (until the game against UCF),” said Fernandez, who is spending his present days pretty much alone in his home. “We went from going 100 mph to zero — just like that. Before this season, you could never imagine something like this.”

No decisions have been made about rescheduling the Temple and Cincinnati games.

More men’s games postponed

The men’s basketball team announced that games at Tulsa on Feb. 3 and at SMU on Feb. 6 have been postponed “as a result of COVID-19 protocols within the program.”

The postponements mark the seventh and eighth games the virus has either postponed or cancelled this season for the men (7-5, 3-3 American Athletic Conference).

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The next scheduled game is at home Feb. 10 against Houston, which would be the first the men have played since a Jan. 9 victory over East Carolina.