Fact or fiction, that remains the question for the 2001-02 USF women’s basketball team. With a 7-0 start, the Bulls have equaled the 1999-2000 squad for the second best opening to a season. Jerry Ann Winters’ last team spiraled out of control after a 10-1 start, losing their next 10 games.
Should the Bulls beat the 18th-ranked Florida Gators Saturday, they would equal the best start in school history. The 1976-77 team set that mark, but they didn’t play one university outside of the state of Florida. In fact, they compiled victories against Brevard Community College and Miami-Dade South. Under Jose Fernandez, this year’s Bulls have won two tournaments and knocked off four teams that still have winning records. But they also own wins vs. Division I newcomers Savannah State and Morris Brown.
“We proved to everybody that we can beat Miami and SMU, who’s picked third in the WAC,” freshman Jen Kline said. “We’re not a joke. We worked hard in the offseason to get here.”
For a top-25 squad, the Gators (4-3) have been remarkably lackluster so far this year. In the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands, both USC and then-No. 23 Wisconsin knocked off the Gators. Those two defeats caused Florida to drop from No. 12 to No. 18 in the USA Today poll. The Gators’ most recent matchup (Dec. 2) was in the finals of the Tulane Invitational. The host Green Wave (6-1) upset Florida 57-51 behind 14 second-half points from preseason All Conference USA center Teana McKiver.
“The teams they’ve lost against – Tulane No. 25 in the country; Wisconsin a very good team,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “We’re playing a very good ballclub that has had a great schedule up until now. We can’t take their record for granted, that’s for sure.”
Saturday’s game in the Sun Dome will be the seventh straight road game for the Gators. The Gators will be coming to Tampa straight from Beaumont, Texas, where UF faced Lamar Thursday. So far this season, the Gators have traveled from St. Thomas to Tallahassee to New Orleans to Beaumont and finally Tampa. UF hasn’t played in the O’Connell Center since a Nov. 20 game vs. High Point.
“Away from home all the time is rough,” Kline said. “Being home and having a large crowd should be a big advantage. I hope they’ll turn out, and homecourt should be an advantage.”
The top 25 is someplace the Bulls would love to be. No squad in USF history has ever reached that goal. And the Bulls need only go 7-13 during their last 20 games to join the 1988-89, 1993-94 and 1998-99 teams (all 14-13) as the only ones in the last 23 years to finish above .500.
“We want respect,” Kline said. “We don’t want people to say that we’re just beating small teams. And the way to do it is beat Florida.”
- Anthony Gagliano covers women’s basketball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org