The USF women’s basketball team faces perhaps its biggest home game of the season tonight against Florida in a game USF coach Jose Fernandez said will measure both the team’s fan base and the Bulls’ ability to play in front of large crowds.
“Playing at home against a good team like Florida, who is also an in-state rival … if we can’t get a crowd in the Sun Dome for this, I don’t know when we will,” Fernandez said. “But this team can play in front of crowds. Some of our players have been to some big games”
Last season, No. 2 Connecticut came to Tampa for a game played before more than 3,000 fans. The game was one of four against NCAA tournament teams for the Bulls’ last season.
This culminates the longest home stand of the season for USF (3-2). During the four-game set, the Bulls have lost to Miami and won two games to capture the Best Western Roundball Classic. After Florida, the players will have almost two weeks off before the team’s next game.
“We can’t really look past Florida,” Fernandez said. “We’re playing hard and doing a lot of things right, and we need to focus on getting this win. We have to take this whole season one game at a time.”
Two problems that plagued USF in its two losses — poor shooting and rebounding — became strengths during this weekend’s tournament. In the championship game against Missouri-Kansas City, the Bulls shot nearly 50 percent from the field, a dramatic improvement from the percentages in the low 30s the team has been posting this year. USF also bested UMKC on the boards, 42-34.
“(UMKC) is a good team, and certainly not an easy win,” Fernandez said. “We showed a lot of improvement in that game, though, especially in our shooting. To make almost half our shots is great. If we can play the way we played Sunday all the time, we’ll be in just about any game.
“A big part of the reason we shot so much better is we were being more careful and paying more attention to the game. We were evenly matched in a lot of areas, but we stepped up and made some big shots, and that is what this team needs to be able to do. We have to keep that shooting up (tonight) and for the rest of the season.”
Starting for the Bulls will be forwards Nalini Miller, Andrea Armstrong and Jessica Dickson and guards Anedra Gilmore and Rae Rae Sayles. However, unlike other games, Fernandez does not know beforehand who will complete his substitution rotation.
“I don’t know exactly who’s going to be first off the bench,” he said. “We are just going to let the pace of the game determine who plays how much. We need to let the game get going before we figure out what kind of players we need on the floor.”