By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, MARCH 7, 2014 – USF women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez wishes there was a week and a half left in the regular season because of how well the surging Bulls have been playing down the stretch.
USF (18-11, 13-5) has won five straight games with more basketball to play before the NCAA Selection Show. The third-seeded Bulls will look to impress the selection committee even more 8 p.m. Saturday, when they face off against sixth-seeded Temple in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
“Things are going to take care of themselves if we do what we need to do,” said Fernandez, who has led USF to the postseason nine times in the past 10 years, including an NCAA tournament run last season.
The Bulls have stated their case well over the past 10 games, winning eight of them, and they haven’t lost to a team outside of No. 1 UConn and No. 3 Louisville since Dec. 28.
“You don’t want to be that team that’s on the bubble and not making it to the tournament,” said senior Inga Orekhova, an All-American Athletic Conference second-team selection who enters tournament play 45 points away from reaching 1,000 in her USF career.
USF made a big statement in the regular season finale and locked up the valuable third seed in the conference tournament by getting past No. 24 Rutgers, 60-51, Monday night in Piscataway, N.J.
“Monday was a huge win but we told our players it’s insignificant if we don’t go up to the conference tournament and play well and do what we need to do,” Fernandez said.
The first order of business is getting a third straight victory over Temple after the Bulls defeated the Owls, 64-51, at the Sun Dome on Jan. 7 before pulling out a 72-69 win Feb. 22 in Philadelphia.
“This will be our third time playing them. We already know who all they have. We already know how to attack them and where their weaknesses are,” said sophomore forward Alisia Jenkins, an All-American Athletic Conference second-teamer. “We already know the game plan that we have; it’s just up to us as players to follow the game plan our coaches have for us.”
The Bulls probably need two wins to solidify their spot in the NCAA tournament and fans can follow their American Athletic Conference tournament run all the way through.
Saturday’s game will air on ESPN3, and if USF wins it will face second-seeded Louisville or No. 10 seed Houston in the semifinals 3 p.m. Sunday (TV: ESPNU). Monday’s conference championship is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.