USF freshman guard Jessica Jackson has Notre Dame worrying more about her perimeter game than junior guard Jessica Dickson, who finished the season as the nation’s leading scorer.
USF makes its first appearance in the Big East Tournament on Saturday against Notre Dame.
The Bulls are looking to capture their 20th victory of the season, which almost certainly will net them an NCAA Tournament bid.
“The excitement has been here all year playing the Big East, and I think we are one of the strongest conferences, if not the strongest,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “Our goal this season has been to make the NCAA Tournament, and finishing 9-7 in conference play is good.”
In the season finale at Georgetown, Jackson scored 21 points on 7-of-12 from the field, including 6-for-11 from behind the three-point arc. In the Bulls’ 68-64 upset victory of then-No. 21 Notre Dame earlier this season, Jackson scored 12 points, all of which came from three-point range. Jackson’s shooting accuracy against zone defenses may force the Fighting Irish to play more man-to-man schemes.
“We talked about her against our zone, and she makes it difficult for us to play zone, and we are even more nervous after her game against Georgetown,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think her presence alone would force us out of our zone because she’s that good.”
Jackson got the start against the Hoyas because senior forward Ezria Parsons was injured in the West Virginia game. Jackson made the most of her opportunity, and the Fighting Irish are aware of what she can do from the perimeter.
“We want to know where she is at all times,” McGraw said.
Dickson, who fell into a late-season shooting slump, ended the season with two solid performances. Dickson scored 24 points in a win against West Virginia and 22 against the Hoyas on Tuesday.
McGraw’s impression of Dickson after the first meeting was one of astonishment and admiration. McGraw believes that Dickson has the total package and is impossible to stop defensively.
“I don’t think you can stop her because she is too good of a scorer, and plus, she does a lot of other things,” McGraw said. “She runs the floor better than any player I’ve ever seen in transition.”
Dickson is dangerous in transition and uses her dribble penetration to set up her jump shot.
McGraw recognized Dickson’s speed and aggressive nature at both ends of the floor.
“When the shot goes up, if she doesn’t get the rebound she gets down the floor as quick as anyone in the country,” McGraw said. “I’m really impressed with the speed and the aggressiveness that she runs the floor with.”
The women’s team wants to bring the same kind of balance offensively in the rematch as it did in the first meeting. USF had three players score in double figures, and two others had nine points.Fernandez, however, is preaching defense to his team.
“We are going to need Rachael (Sheats), Jessica (Jackson) and Shantia (Grace) to stop dribble penetration to keep our bigs out of foul trouble,” Fernandez said. “This is almost like an NCAA Tournament game, and I think it’s going to be exciting.”