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Women’s basketball team looking at a must-win

Facing a Southern Miss team that’s winless in conference and coming off two straight home Conference USA losses, the USF women’s basketball team is staring a must-win situation right in the eye.

“I don’t know, we’ve got a lot of games left to play,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “It’s not such a must-win that our season’s over if we lose. But, we’ve given up two at home, so we have to steal a few on the road. Southern Miss’ backs are to the wall too.”

The Golden Eagles (7-9, 0-3 in C-USA) are the first of four straight road contests for the Bulls (11-5, 1-2 in C-USA). After playing Southern Miss at 7 tonight in Hattiesburg, the Bulls travel to New Orleans Sunday to confront Tulane, winner of four of the last five C-USA Tournaments and the No. 23 team in the country.

The going gets no easier next week when the Bulls head to Freedom Hall in Louisville and the Shoemaker Center in Cincinnati, likely without freshman Jen Kline, still nursing a stress fracture in her leg suffered Dec. 16 vs. Western Kentucky.

“We take it one game at a time, but the kids know how tough our schedule is – four straight on the road now and three in a row later,” Fernandez said. “But everyone gets stuck with it some year, DePaul had it last year. Plus, Cincinnati’s three games away. We have to worry about Southern Miss first, then Tulane.”

The Golden Eagles haven’t played a conference home game yet, losing at Tulane (by a point), Saint Louis and Memphis. Southern Miss is 6-1 at home, but USM is one of four schools in C-USA that hasn’t won a conference game. South Florida is tied for ninth place with East Carolina at 1-2. However, the one conference win equaled USF’s total of a year ago.

“We need to take care of ourselves and not worry how everyone else is playing,” Fernandez said. “Only 12 teams make the (conference) tournament, but we’ve made some pretty damn good improvement. I want to change this program as much as anyone this season, and so do the kids.”

The Golden Eagles’ last two losses were both by 10 points, but USF must contend with USM’s Sonja Brown. The 6-foot-5 junior is the conference leader in blocked shots with 4.3 a game, and she averages nine rebounds per game.

She’s sure to be a disruptive force in the paint, as the Bulls have been outrebounded by more than 10 boards a game.

“They have two big kids inside,” Fernandez said. “Their strength is their post play. We just have to block out and keep them off the glass.”