The USF women’s basketball team, which was considered a bubble team since February for the NCAA tournament this month, had its fate decided on by the selection committee last night.
The panel did not select the Bulls (19-12) to “go dancing” with the 64 best teams in the nation.
“I’ve been in that mock selection room before, and I know that 10-person committee works extremely hard,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “There are a lot of things they look at.”
Despite losing only four games during the final 16 of the regular season, concluding with a 60-51 win against No. 24 Rutgers on the road, the Bulls did not have a victory against a team with a top 50 Rating Percentage Index (RPI).
“We did everything we could in January, February and March, and I guess it wasn’t enough,” Fernandez said.
The Bulls’ roughest patch of losses came in December, when they went 2-5. Although senior guard Inga Orekhova was out with a knee injury during the losses to Clemson and FGCU, the teams defeated by top 20 RPI team, Middle Tennessee State, and top 30 RPI team, Oklahoma State.
As of March 17, the Bulls had the 57th-highest RPI according to the NCAA website.
While the Bulls were among the first four teams out, No. 1 ranked UConn and No. 4 ranked Louisville were the two AAC teams this year to play during March Madness.
The Bulls lost both season matchups to each team, including a four-point defeat to Louisville in the AAC tournament semifinals.
With the team missing out on an NCAA tournament appearance, they accepted an invitation into the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). This year’s postseason berth is the eighth WNIT appearance in USF history, along with the 10th postseason appearance in the past 11 years.
Of the eight times they have been to the WNIT, Fernandez led the Bulls to one championship in 2009 with a 75-71 win against Kansas. Their most recent appearance was in 2012, the year before their second NCAA tournament appearance. During that time, they were eliminated in the third round.
Fernandez saw a teachable moment to share with his team about how it can turn this into a lifelong value.
“Like I told my team, these are the kinds of things life is going to throw at you,” Fernandez said. “It’s going to happen once they leave USF, and how they handle it is what is going to matter.”
Though Fernandez sees this as an opportunity to learn, freshman guard Ariadna Pujol plans to use it as a way to light a fire under the team.
“Now we are so mad for our seniors, as well,” Pujol said on her Instagram account. “Our season didn’t finish, we have WNIT to show that we deserved to be in NCAA Tournament (sic).”
The Bulls will begin playing in the WNIT on Friday at home against North Carolina A&T.