Last week, USF head coach Jose Fernandez told his players that their four wins would be “insignificant” if they did not win against No. 24 Rutgers on Monday.
This week, he introduced a new rhetoric to his players.
“Monday (versus Rutgers) was a huge win but we told our players that it’s insignificant if we don’t go to the (American Athletic Conference) tournament and play well,” Fernandez said.
During the win against Rutgers, sophomore guard Courtney Williams’ three-pointer in the final minute iced Rutgers and helped the Bulls secure the 57-51 victory in New Jersey along with the third seed in the conference.
She is now an AAC all-conference first team honoree, averaging 16.4 points a game. Her scoring average is the sixth best in the conference.
“Without the help of my teammates, I wouldn’t be able to do half of the things I do,” Williams said.
She joins three other teammates with all-conference honors.
While senior guard Inga Orekhova and sophomore forward Alisia Jenkins share a spot on the all-conference second team, freshman guard Ariadna Pujol is a all-conference freshman team honoree.
Because the Bulls (18-11, 13-5) earned the third seed, they secured a first round bye and will not play their first game until the quarterfinal match against sixth seed Temple on Saturday.
“Temple can score,” Fernandez said. “They are very good offensively. They got five players in (near) double figure (scoring averages). Those types of teams are dangerous.”
Orekhova said she believes that defense will be key to their game Saturday.
While USF won both games against Temple in the regular season, their last margin of victory was by three points.
“Coach Fernandez mentioned we started playing defense (against Temple) after 25 minutes,” Orekhova said. “I feel like we should do that from the beginning and shouldn’t wait until the end.”
During their 72-69 victory against Temple in Philadelphia, the Bulls recorded two blocks and four steals in the first half compared to the nine blocks they had in the second half.
If the Bulls beat Temple, they will likely be in the conversation of being selected for the NCAA tournament. Their chances of being selected will increase the further they go into the conference tournament, ultimately ending in an automatic bid if they win the championship.
While USF is not in the same bracket as No. 1 UConn, USF could play the No. 2 Louisville Cardinals in the conference semifinals. The Cardinals are the only team USF has lost to in their bracket.
The Bulls will begin playing the AAC Championship in Connecticut on Saturday at 8 p.m. against Temple.