If the USF women’s basketball team is to end its seven-year drought against Miami, the Bulls full-court pressure defense will be forced erase the Hurricanes’ historical dominance. The Hurricanes (3-0) are the Bulls’ biggest rival, with the two squads squaring off for the 37th time. Miami holds a 25-10 edge in the series, but they’ve never faced a Bulls’ defense like coach Jose Fernandez’s current group.
“Well, I wasn’t here for all that time and neither were these kids,” Fernandez said. “It’s a big state rival game and they would be a quality win. We have to feed off our defense to create some excitement. We’ve been forcing 25 turnovers a game, so our pressure’s been key.”
Turnovers have been immeasurable to the Bulls’ early season success. Forcing nearly twice as many as it’s yielded, USF has relied upon fast break points to mask their shooting woes. The Bulls are only accurate 61.5 percent of the time from the free-throw line, and USF’s three-point percentage is 25.4.
“Our offense draws off the defense because we run a lot,” junior Aiya Shepard said. “We have to come up with steals and force turnovers to get into our game. We’re not tall in the post, so we try to run as much as possible so we can get past that disadvantage.”
Shepard has been a key cog in the Bulls’ trapping defense, registering 18 steals in three games. Shepard, Dione Smith (15), Tristen Webb (13) and Jen Kline (11) have helped USF record 77 steals in four games. Shepard missed USF’s game Saturday against Savannah State with a hyper extended knee. A healthy Shepard would greatly improve USF’s chances vs. the unbeaten Canes.
“Hopefully, tomorrow it’ll be all right,” said Shepard, USF’s leader in assists and minutes per game. “I’m going to be hurting, but I want to beat Miami so bad. You get more excited about people in your state because everyone wants to be on top of everyone else. We want to make a statement.”
USF did just that with its thrashing of Division I newcomer Savannah State Saturday. Behind a great collective effort from the Bulls’ four freshmen, USF reeled off a dizzying 30-0 second-half run to wipe out the Tigers 101-47. The Bulls scored the sixth most points in school history for a single game. Records for three-pointers made and attempted in a single game fell.
Kline was the Bulls’ leading scorer for the second straight game with her 20 points vs. SSU. In addition, the freshman shattered the USF mark for individual three-point attempts in a game. All of that earned the Nevada native the Conference USA Player of the Week.
However, beating Miami makes all of that pale in comparison. During the 2000-01 season, the Bulls only won four games all season. USF’s fifth straight would tie this year’s team for the third best start in school history, topple last season’s win total and end Miami’s perfect run.
“I’m really excited because last year, it took us a while just to get four (wins),” Shepard said. “We want to show people that we can play, not just have them live on (the reputation that) South Florida doesn’t have a good women’s team. We want to win (today) to prove people wrong.”
- Anthony Gagliano covers women’s basketball and can be reached at email@example.com