As the regular seasoninches toward its end, with five games left, experience on the court has become invaluable for a Bulls team (17-7, 6-5) that sits at the dead center of the Big East.
Part of the experience and the staple in USFs offense is senior guard Andrea Smith.
Andrea, twin sister tosenior guard Andrell Smith, has emerged on the hardwood this season as a leader, afterbeing forced to sit out all of last season with a torn ACL.
Though the injury may have been serious, with the season Smith is having, its hard to say that it slowed her down at all.
I learned a lot while sitting out from coach and I watched a lot of film, Smith said. I really focused on myself andgetting my teammates better.
Smith leads the Bulls in scoring, averaging 16 points per game and has become a safety net for USF when it finds itself in trouble. For someplayers that could addpressure.
But for Smith, its something that she embraces.
They do rely on me more, but its not added pressure because its nothing I cannot do or I havent been in that situation before, Smith said. Im just blessed to be in thatsituation, so I think they do rely on me but I love it and theres nothing better than making your teammates happy.
Her role as scorer is something Smith has dealt with since high school and even in junior college.
At Lake Gibson High School, Smith averaged 20.7 points per game then went on to Gulf Coast where she helped her team to a total 59-4 record in two years, while also leading her team in scoring.
The experience has paid off.
I think being a senior and being more mature, seeing a lot of basketball,being around a lot ofbasketball all my life and putting it alltogether my senior year hasreally been a difference inbeing a leader with thehelp of my teammates, Smith said.
The role is fitting for Smith too, becoming a nuisance for defenses in the Big East.
Once Smith gets on a roll, she becomes difficult tostop and it isnt her form, herenergy or the crowd that plays the major role once Smith gets hot.
While those are all factors, its her focus on the ball and awareness of the pressure around her that allows her to gain momentum when it counts.
Its wanting it, accepting it and not shying away from it, Smith said.
Her shooting is versatile. Her hustle is evident. And though it would be easy to take pride in her offensive play, its her ability to lead that that Smith is proud of most.
I really take my pride in leading and being morefocused and more positive, Smith said. When youre more positive theres a better outcome.
Even as a Top 10 scorer in the conference, Smith seems to be more concernedwith virtue over skill, focus and leadership, andnot so much about individual stats.
Though it may seem that scoring andbeing a leader issomething that has alwaysaccompanied Smith throughout her basketball career, thejunior college transfer proves that no one is too good to learn,something she has done sincejoining the Bulls in 2010.
Ive loved it every step of the way, Smith said.Coming from a junior college to division one, its really been a learning experience.
One of the most important things that Smith has been taught since becoming a Bull is not a particular skill, but perhaps one of the biggestvirtues of them all.
Im more patient, Smith said. Ive actually takenevery game, every step,play-by-play.
With all she has learned in her years at USF, family and determination seem to play key roles in Smiths last ride as a Bull.
Im just driven because its my last year to play with my sister. Im driven to get better every day and just to make thislast year memorable. Smith said. In spite ofeverything, I just go out and giveit 100 percent.
Smith and the Bulls will try to make this year memorable starting with a win Wednesday at 7 p.m. when USF travels to tip off with No.12 Louisville.
I think we just need tocontinue to play hard, practice hard and stay together as a team. Smith said. We have five big games coming up and I think we can get all five.