The University of South Florida women’s basketball team had dreams of earning the first NCAA Tournament or NIT berth in school history before the season began. Now, the Bulls would settle for a trip to the Conference USA tournament in Memphis.
USF (6-17, 1-9 in Conference USA) currently are at the bottom of the C-USA standings, but they can improve their position this weekend when they host Charlotte tonight and East Carolina Sunday in the Sun Dome.
The Bulls finally snapped their 11-game losing streak Sunday with a victory against Southern Miss, earning their first conference win and first win of 2003. But time, and games, are running thin for the Bulls to improve their position.
With four games remaining on the schedule, USF needs to surpass two teams in order to make it to Memphis for the conference tournament. The Bulls understand it will take work.
“(This weekend) is very important,” senior guard Aiya Shepard said. “We only have four games left, but we’re still in the hunt. There’s no doubt about it. But the games on Friday and Sunday can really help us.”
“I think we beat a really good Southern Miss team, which was crucial,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.
“But we need to beat East Carolina. If (we) can get Charlotte and East Carolina this weekend and take care of Houston on the road (March 2), then we can go to Memphis.”
USF may still need some help from other teams in order to make the conference tournament, but the Bulls aren’t looking too far ahead into the different scenarios.
“There are so many things we need to do before we need other people’s help,” Fernandez said.
The tasks this weekend may be a little rough for USF. After losing junior center Jameelah Trimble and freshman guard Valerie de Velasco for personal reasons, the Bulls lost senior Sonia Cotton for the remainder of the season to a turf toe injury.
USF will look to freshman Sharon Cambridge to fill the void left by Trimble in the low post. Cambridge has shown flashes in recent weeks on the offensive end, but her problem has been getting into early, and frequent, foul trouble.
Cambridge averages nearly a foul every five minutes, which isn’t a good sign for the Bulls, considering she is the only true post player remaining on the Bulls’ roster.
“She’s very important to the team right now,” Shepard said. “She’s a very good rebounder, and we only have two or three people that play in the post, so we need her to stay out of foul trouble. She may be a freshman, but she’s playing an important part right now.”
Fernandez said Cambridge’s hard play is the cause of most of the fouls she picks up early in the game. He also said because Cambridge is prone to pick up quick fouls at the start of the game, he will opt to go to a smaller lineup to start and bring Cambridge off the bench to allow her time to get comfortable.
But Cambridge understands her role with the team has increased in the last week and understands she needs to make some quick adjustments in her game.
“(The fouls are) something I’ve got to work on,” Cambridge said. “I’m just going to try to play more conservative. I’m just going to what I can do to help the team.”
The biggest problem the Bulls may face this weekend is the style of defense that both Charlotte and East Carolina play. Both teams are known to play a zone the majority of the game, something that was a big problem for the Bulls in a blowout loss against Georgia.
“You’ve got to make baskets against the zone,” Fernandez said. “Zones limit you to one shot, and if that’s what you’re getting every time and you’re not putting the ball in the basket, then you’re in trouble.”
Shepard said the Bulls struggled against the Bulldogs earlier in the year because the offense failed to penetrate the zone to help create open shots.
She said that will be one of the keys for USF this weekend in order to pick up a much-needed victory.
“We’ve got to get inside the zone instead of just depending on the outside shot,” Shepard said. “We’ve been depending on the jump shot too much.
“We’ve got to make shots, get to the basket and rebound, and block out on defense.”