TAMPA — On the surface, the USF women’s latest NCAA Tournament assignment seems daunting, if not darn near impossible: Weather the storm Friday to reach the cyclone Sunday.
Such is the forecast awaiting the No. 8-seeded Bulls (26-6) in Columbia, South Carolina, where a victory Friday against No. 9 Marquette (21-10) virtually assures a second-round game against undefeated reigning national champ South Carolina on the Gamecocks’ home floor.
To peer through that bleak prism, however, is to miss out on the full scope of the Bulls’ latest postseason opportunity. Individual and team history can be etched Friday against the Golden Eagles. A victory might — might — secure a season-ending ranking.
And if they do triumph? Well, the chance to pull off the greatest upset in school history — any sport — looms two days later.
“We embrace the opportunity,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “We’re in the tournament.”
Here are a few things to know about the Bulls, and their first-round foe, entering Friday’s action.
School records in sight
With a win against Marquette, the Bulls would tie the program’s single-season victories record shared by Fernandez’s 2008-09 team (27-10) and his 2014-15 club (27-8). The earlier team won the Women’s NIT title; the latter was among four USF squads to reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Additionally, senior center Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu enters the tournament with 394 rebounds, only three shy of USF’s single-season record held by Alisia Jenkins, and 17 shy of former Connecticut star Napheesa Collier’s American Athletic Conference mark.
A bull of a schedule
Like USF, Marquette played an aggressive non-conference schedule that included wins against NCAA tourney qualifiers Texas (a 4 seed), Gonzaga (a 9 seed) and Holy Cross (a 15 seed). Its biggest triumph, however, came in a 59-52 home upset of Connecticut (a 2 seed) on Feb. 8, when the Golden Eagles forced 19 turnovers.
Leading the Eagles in that game was the senior tandem of 5-foot-11 guard Jordan King (15.9 points per game, 4.0 assists) and 6-1 post standout Chloe Marotta (14.5 points per game, 9.1 rebounds), both of whom were first-team All-Big East selections. Marotta nearly had a double double (19 points, nine rebounds) against the Huskies, who avenged the defeat with an 81-52 romp in the Big East tourney.
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“I know they went out and scheduled the right way,” Fernandez said.
More on Marquette
Coach by former Notre Dame standout Megan Duffy, the Golden Eagles go fairly deep, with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes. Until that Big East tournament loss to Connecticut, they had won seven of their previous eight games, and 10 of their previous 12. Statistically selfless, they rank 22nd nationally in assist-turnover ratio (plus-1.21) and assists per game (16.6).
18th time a charm?
If USF wins Friday and South Carolina (32-0) handles its first-round formality against Norfolk State, the Bulls would be facing a No. 1 team for the 18th time in program history.
The previous 17 matchups — all defeats — have been against Connecticut, a former Big East and American Athletic Conference rival.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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