Join USF on NCAA Tourney Journey to Tallahassee
USF FIRST-ROUND PREVIEW
Matchup: No. 11 USF (24-8) vs. No. 6 Missouri (21-10)
Date: Friday, March 17
Time: 5:15 p.m.
Location: Tallahassee, Fla. | David L. Tucker Civic Center
TV: ESPN2 (Melissa Lee, Angel Gray)
Radio: AM 1040 (Mike Lefko)
Tournament: NCAA Tournament
Tickets: Purchase Here | Fan Bus
Follow: Listen | Stats | Twitter
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, MARCH 16, 2017 – USF fans have a unique opportunity to watch the Bulls begin their NCAA tournament run not too far away from Tampa.
Instead of jumping on a plane, USF has taken only its second bus trip of the season four hours up the road to Tallahassee for the opening rounds at FSU’s Donald L. Tucker Center. Action begins Friday with USF (24-8) taking on sixth-seeded Missouri (21-10) at 5:15 p.m. in an exciting matchup televised nationally on ESPN2.
“It should be a wonderful tournament and we’re looking forward to playing,” head coach Jose Fernandez said.
Wonderful also describes the feeling Fernandez’s hard-working Bulls would get if they see lots of Green and Gold in the stands for the program’s fourth NCAA tournament appearance in five years (fifth overall).
“It feels good to be closer to Tampa because we know our fans are going to come support us,” star point guard Laia Flores said. “It’s always good to get support and this probably will help.”
Home fans certainly helped boost the Bulls to 10 wins at the Sun Dome, which is one of the many special aspects of the Bulls’ 2016-17 season so far.
Fernandez’s new-look Bulls will begin the NCAA tournament three wins shy of matching the program’s season record set in 2014-15. That monumental season was the first of three straight trips to the Big Dance for USF, which also has appeared in The American tournament championship three seasons in a row.
Credit goes to Fernandez, who passed the 300-win mark this season, along with his staff and a roster that’s as diverse as it gets. USF’s 14-player squad consists of nine international players, the most of any Division I program, and the bulk of the Bulls’ talent hails from eight different countries.
“We’re really fortunate, we’re really excited to be playing in this thing, especially us losing four starters from last season’s team and winning 24 games,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez’s international flavor includes Flores (Spain), USF sophomore season scoring leader Kitija Laksa (Latvia) and forward Maria Jespersen, a native of Arhus, Denmark, who was named The American’s most improved player this season.
“It’s American basketball, it’s international basketball and European basketball together,” said Laksa. “We just kind of bring the best of our own games and put it together to make our own style of basketball.”
Speaking of Laksa, the sharp-shooter needs 29 points to become the second sophomore in USF history to reach 1,000 in a season. Fans rooting for that to happen in Tallahassee also have an opportunity to become a part of history if the Bulls keep rolling.
USF is seeking its first-ever trip to the Sweet 16 and the first step is getting past an opponent that looks very much like the Bulls. Missouri earned its highest seed in school history and won 10 of its past 13 games using a style Fernandez’s squad has excelled with this season.
“They like to shoot the 3, so do we. We space the floor, so do they,” Fernandez said. “I think from a fan aspect and a matchup aspect, it will be a good game for people in the arena and for people watching all over the world.”
With a win Friday, USF will play in the second round of the NCAA tournament for the third straight season. That meeting could be with third-seeded FSU, which takes on Western Illinois following USF-Missouri on Friday night.
Pack a bag, round up the family and head to Tallahassee for some March Madness, USF style. Tickets are just $15 apiece and admission covers both games Friday. Purchase a ticket HERE or by calling 1-800-Go-Bulls.
Don’t have a ride? Don’t worry, because USF even has that covered. Purchase another ticket for $40 HERE and board the fan bus to Tallahassee.
“Tomorrow, I think our play will speak for itself,” said Fernandez of his team that’s motivated to make history less than 300 miles from Tampa.
To stay up-to-date on the latest USF women’s’ basketball news, follow the Bulls on social media (Twitter | Facebook | Instagram).
USF has notched its fifth consecutive 20-win season. The Bulls tallied its 20th win in their 24th contest of the season which tied the fastest any program has reached 20 wins. This is the eighth 20-win season in program history and head coach Jose Fernandez has been at the helm for all eight 20-win seasons. The 2014-15 team reached 20 wins in 24 games, and still currently holds the best record for most wins in a season (27).
USF has made 13 postseason tournament appearances and had five NCAA Tournament berths in Head Coach Jose Fernandez’s 17 seasons. The all-time winningest coach in program history, Fernandez has guided USF to eight 20-win seasons, two WNIT final four appearances, the 2009 WNIT championship and won more than 300 games.
– #GoBulls –