With their 99-71 beatdown of C. Florida yesterday, the USF women's basketball team added to their list of accomplishments never before seen at the institution.
* They won their 24th game, extending their school record for wins by a men's or women's team.
* They won their 15th regular season conference game, also a school record.
* They assured themselves that even if they were to lose their last two games (tomorrow vs. UConn and the winner of the Memphis-SMU play-in game in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament), they will be in the NCAA Tournament. Exempting the 1990 men's team that won the Sun Belt Tournament to dance as a 15 seed, no USF basketball team has ever gone into an NCAA Selection Show assured that they'll hear their name when the brackets are announced.
* In the 86 combined seasons of USF varsity men's and women's basketball, a team has been ranked in the AP poll exactly once: That was this USF women's team two weeks ago. If the Bulls do get re-ranked tomorrow (not out of the realm of possibility), ESPN will carry two AP Top 25 teams playing on Monday night at the Sun Dome. That's never, ever happened before.
And as we have and our readers have delved into before: if you don't think USF is one of the 25 best teams in America, you're either not paying attention or are willfully ignorant. We're not rehashing it here, but this team is primed to make a run in March. They may not have been given one iota of respect nationally, but they plan on taking it from everyone in three weeks. Believe this.
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I was at the first UConn vs. USF women's basketball game at the Sun Dome on December 28th, 2002. Diana Taurasi was hurt and didn't play, but the Huskies cruised by a not-actually-that-close 72-56 score. And during that game and the five UConn visits to the Sun Dome since, a big crowd of mostly of blue-haired septuagenarians shipped up from Sun City Center rattle their walkers in support of their favorite dynasty.
That should not be allowed to happen tomorrow night. Bulls fans should fill the gym and cheer for the best USF basketball team that's ever existed. They deserve it because of the beautiful style they play, the outstanding talent they continue to put on the floor that's worked so hard & gelled so effectively this season, and as a celebration for a team that's done everything the right way.
If you're late to the party, Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins might be the best tandem of juniors in America. You might already know about Courtney, whose cat-quick moves, 20.7 ppg, and silky mid-range jumper that induces grown men to weep makes her one of the most dynamic players in America. Jenkins has the fourth-most double-doubles in America this season (21), and is ninth in the NCAA in rebounding at 11.7 per game. Her strength in the paint and on the glass belies her 6'1 frame, and the most dangerous place on USF's campus is between her and a loose ball.
It's USF's defense that makes them so fun. The Bulls are seventh in the nation in field goal percentage defense (34.3%), 14th in rebounding margin (+9.5), and 2nd in defensive rebounds per game (31.0). It's why this team is going to make a run in March: because defense translates to neutral floors and road games better than any other basketball skill.
"This is a big stage, national television," Jose Fernandez told me. "We need Bulls Country to come out and support our team. It should be an incredible atmosphere. There hasn't been this much attention for one game in regards to basketball in the City of Tampa in a long time."
I don't know if they can conquer The Dynasty, but I do know this: they absolutely will not play scared. Some of the freshmen like Laura Ferreira and Maria Jespersen had no idea what they were in for in Storrs six weeks ago. UConn put up a big number early and kept it there. And that's part of growing as a basketball team: sometimes you just gotta experience it in a game.
But they know what's coming tomorrow, and a home crowd rooting them on will only help make the game more competitive.
If you still haven't seen this team play, tomorrow night is the last stop on the bandwagon. You know you're going to watch every NCAA Tournament game, so you might as well show up tomorrow too. It's Senior Night for Tamara Taylor and the injured Ivana Vuletic... which reminds you that every other player is returning next season. Tomorrow night could be the prologue when the story of the best USF basketball ever played is written, not the denouement.
Go to the Sun Dome tomorrow night. Cheer this team passionately, and let them entertain you. They are the best USF team to ever grace that court, and they should be celebrated.