WHO: FGCU (4-3) at USF (6-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Sun Dome
RADIO: 1010-AM and BullsCast on GoUSFBulls.com
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - A highly competitive in-state rivalry will be renewed Wednesday night when the Bulls put their perfect record on the line at home.
The USF women's basketball team looks to go 7-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season when it faces Florida Gulf Coast University at 7 p.m. in the Sun Dome.
"It's a good game for both programs," USF head coach Jose Fernandez said.
Wednesday marks the start of a new home-and-home series between the programs after their first two meetings went down to the wire in 2008-09. FGCU handed USF a 67-65 loss in the first round of the WNIT in 2008 and the Bulls answered back with an 88-81 overtime victory in the second round of the WNIT on the way to the 2009 tournament title.
"This is an NCAA tournament-type game," Fernandez said.
USF's winningest basketball coach made the statement because he knows what can be gained with a victory. The Eagles won the Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament titles last season before making an NCAA tournament appearance.
"At the end of the day, this is the type of game that helps your RPI and strength of schedule," Fernandez said.
FGCU (4-3) cruised past Hampton and Maine in its past two games and the Eagles are limiting their opponents to 55.4 points per contest under three-time A-Sun coach of the year Karl Smesko.
"He does a very good job defensively where all five of their kids keep people in front. They're tough, they're aggressive, they bump cutters and they limit you to one shot," Fernandez said.
Opponents have found it difficult to put up points against the Bulls as well. USF ranks 21st nationally in scoring defense (50.3 points allowed per game) and is averaging nearly 25 turnovers per game. The Bulls forced a total of 67 turnovers in wins over UNC-Asheville and North Florida last week.
"I think our defensive package is getting a bit broader. We've been able to press out of different alignments, different formations, and been able to bring defensive pressure," Fernandez said.
Things also are rolling on offense for a USF team that's averaging 72.2 points per game and has three players averaging double-digit scoring figures. Freshman point guard Courtney Williams (7.3 ppg) is becoming a nice option in the attack after averaging 14.5 points and seven rebounds in her past two games. She was rewarded Monday by being named the Big East's freshman of the week.
"She's made things happen," Fernandez said.
As Fernandez often points out, USF still can improve in many areas and Wednesday is a chance to keep things moving in the right direction before more tough tests. The Bulls play at Jacksonville 1 p.m. Saturday before hosting No. 25 Nebraska on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 1 p.m.
"We're 6-0 right now and everybody is happy. We have a lot of people playing. In a perfect world, that's how you want things, but we're going to be tested here this upcoming week against two in-state foes," Fernandez said. "We have finals to deal with and then we have a very good Nebraska team coming in here at home. Our first challenge is getting ready for Florida Gulf Coast."