Coming off a 14-13 record in the 2001-2002 season with the core of the team returning, the University of South Florida women’s basketball team entered the 2002-2003 season with some very high expectations.
The Bulls hoped to obtain the first postseason tournament berth in school history this season, but numerous problems throughout the year led to a 7-20 overall record and a Conference USA worst 2-12 record.
“Finishing off the year at 7-20, I didn’t think we’d be in that situation at the end of the year,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said.
“I thought we all were going to have a great season,” said junior forward Sarah Lochmann, who finished second on the team in scoring 9.7 points per game and rebounding 5.8 rebounds per game. “Every game that we came out we just seemed to do something wrong each time.
“One game we’d be great at one aspect, like rebounding or defending and the next we wouldn’t. Other games we wouldn’t be shooting, and the other team would shoot 50 percent. It was just different things all the time.”
USF’s inability to put all the aspects of its game together on a daily basis led to nine losses by nine or less points. But the one thing that never really surfaced was the shooting, as the Bulls managed to make only 35 percent from the field, the worst percentage in school history and just 27 percent from 3-point range, the fourth worst.
“A lot of (the shooting problems) had to do with confidence at first,” sophomore guard Jen Kline said. “But if the ball doesn’t go in, it doesn’t go in.”
Kline endured one of the worst drop-offs in shooting this year. She saw her good freshman numbers (11.9 ppg, 36 percent shooting, 29 percent 3-point) disappear this season (5.4 ppg, 27 percent shooting, 14 percent 3-point range).
The poor shooting proved detrimental for USF this season, considering they were playing the most ambitious non-conference schedule in school history.
The non-conference schedule included five teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year, including defending national champs the Connecticut Huskies and one that made the National Invitational Tournament. In addition, five conference opponents made it to the postseason a year ago, so almost half of USF’s opponents made it to the postseason.
“I think we played one of the toughest schedules in the nation without a doubt,” Fernandez said.
“We had a very tough schedule, but we were really excited,” Lochmann said.
However, the Bulls’ excitement couldn’t deter the competition and the Bulls dropped 15 of 16 games during one stretch, including an 11-game losing streak. Nine of the Bulls’ 15 opponents during that stretch made it to the postseason this year and 12 of the 26 teams they faced made it to either the NCAA Tournament or NIT.
Another factor that plagued the Bulls was the team’s health, mentally and physically. Kline and departed freshman guard Valerie de Velasco missed the first six games of the season due to leg injuries. Senior Sonia Cotton played with turf toe, and eventually had her last season cut short. Senior
Aiya Shepard played most of the year with nagging ankle injuries and also battled dehydration in one game towards the end of the season. Freshman A.J. Johnson was eventually redshirted after never fully recovering from her leg injury.
In addition to injuries, the Bulls had two players, de Velasco and junior center Jameelah Trimble, leave the team in mid February for personal reasons.
However, injuries and two players leaving the team weren’t the problem according to Fernandez and his players.
“We lacked leadership and team chemistry,” Fernandez said.
“We just couldn’t get any team chemistry between us and if you don’t have that chemistry it won’t work,” Lochmann said. “When we were on the court, we just weren’t making the right choices.”
The Bulls did feel they made some improvements toward the end of the season, that could prove to be positive heading into next year.
“We were expecting to be at full strength at the beginning of the year but we started bonding towards the end of the season,” Kline said.
“I think our team knows we can play with anyone in the country,” Fernandez said. “I mean, you look at our schedule and we lost nine games by eight or nine points. We just need maturity down the stretch. I said this is a young team, and we just need to learn how to win.”
Although the Bulls may not have swept through the final part of their season, they did fight to extend their season.
With the season on the line and the possibility of missing the conference tournament rapidly approaching, USF responded with back-to-back home victories against Southern Miss and Conference USA and NCAA Tournament team, Charlotte.
“This is a group that never gave up, that always gave 110 percent, and it showed with our play down the stretch,” Fernandez said.
USF went winless on the road this season (0-12), including consecutive losses on the final weekend of the regular season, keeping USF out of the conference tournament.
“I can’t really say why we lost all the road games,” Lochmann said. Fernandez however, provided an answer.
“It’s just focus and concentration,” Fernandez said. “The size of the court and the height of the rim are the same. We have to be able to win on the road, because good teams can win anywhere.”
Although this season was disappointing, the Bulls are upbeat for next season.
Fernandez has the nation’s 25th ranked recruiting class coming in and all but three players returning from this year’s team. He said there wouldn’t be any excuses if the Bulls perform poorly next season.
“If we don’t do well (next year) it’s on me and my staff,” Fernandez said. “This (season) is definitely a huge disappointment for my (third) year, and we need to improve.”
Contact Adam Adkins at firstname.lastname@example.org