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It’s NCAA or bust for Bulls women, Jose Fernandez says

The veteran coach says his team won’t play in the NIT, if it comes to that.
Veteran USF women's coach Jose Fernandez watches his team in the fourth quarter Sunday against UCF at the Yuengling Center. UCF embarrassed the Bulls, 54-33.
Veteran USF women's coach Jose Fernandez watches his team in the fourth quarter Sunday against UCF at the Yuengling Center. UCF embarrassed the Bulls, 54-33. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 14

The morning after his team’s embarrassing nationally televised defeat to its arch rival, veteran USF women’s coach Jose Fernandez still spoke like a man with zero interest in excuses.

And even less in consolation prizes.

The way Fernandez sees it, his reeling team (17-7, 7-3 American Athletic Conference) must win its last five regular-season games — or win the AAC tournament — to reach the program’s eighth NCAA tourney. Otherwise, USF won’t play in the postseason for the first time since 2011 (not counting 2020, when all postseason action was canceled).

On Monday, Fernandez said he has no interest in participating in the NIT.

“The only way I’ll play is if the administration makes me play,” said Fernandez, whose team posted its lowest point total in a half-decade in Sunday’s 54-33 home loss to UCF. “I don’t want to play in it.”

On Friday, NCAA women’s bracketologist Charlie Creme projected USF as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tourney, opening play in Greensboro, N.C. But following Sunday’s loss, the Bulls’ second in the last three games, their NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) ranking fell five spots to No. 43.

Buoying their resume to this point is nine victories against teams currently in the top 100 of the NET rankings, a primary barometer used by the selection committee when assessing a team’s tournament resume. The biggest wins, of course, came in November in the Bahamas, where Fernandez’s team upset Oregon (No. 11) and Stanford (No. 3) in a five-day span.

But the sheen from those seismic wins has dissipated considerably this month. Betrayed by its collective shooting touch, USF hasn’t eclipsed 60 points in a game since Jan. 26 and is 6 of 61 from 3-point range in its last three contests.

“We’re not playing well, we’re not making shots,” Fernandez said. “I think we’re defending good enough. Right now, there’s no room for error. We can’t lose any of the five remaining games, because all five remaining games are (against teams) outside the 100 NET (rankings).”

Any such loss down the stretch would be unbecoming for a team once ranked 13th in the country.

So would an NIT berth, its coach says.

“I think our program’s past that,” Fernandez added. “Now, if it’s a young team and you’re full of freshmen and sophomores and you want to get them experience, yes. But not with a veteran team that we have.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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