The USF women’s basketball team travels to New York this weekend looking to win the first two games of a season the team hopes will prove many skeptics wrong.
“It won’t be easy, but it’s obviously very important for us to start off with a couple of wins this weekend,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “We have a lot to prove this season, and to start off with a loss this early, with a tough opponent waiting for us on Tuesday (when Miami comes to Tampa), a loss would really hurt us.”
The team plays its first game tonight against Wagner. They will then travel to West Point to take on Army on Sunday.
Injuries were already a problem for the team during its two exhibition victories, and tonight’s contest will be no different. Fernandez said forward Ezria Parsons, who missed both exhibition games, would be questionable with an ankle injury.
He also said forward Jessica Dickson, who is expected to be one of the team’s top shooters this season, may not play due to an injury suffered in the team’s 116-66 exhibition win Sunday against Miami Sun AAU.
“It’s tough (dealing with the injuries so early in the season),” Fernandez said. “But we have a lot of good players, and some of them are going to have to step up to make sure it’s not really an issue. I think we have good enough depth that right now we can overcome (the injuries).”
Four players will make their first starts for USF tonight. Guard Anedra Gilmore and forwards Andrea Armstrong, Rae Rae Sayles and Nalini Miller will join senior point guard Melissa Tape in the starting lineup. Gilmore, Armstrong and Sayles are all transfer students, while Miller will be opening her freshman season.
But the team will play with a rotation of eight or nine players, spreading playing time evenly and allowing players off the bench to make a major impact.
“Tristen Webb, Sharon Cambridge, Sarah Lochmann and Alana Tanksley are going to be the first four off the bench for us this weekend,” Fernandez said.
“The most important thing we have to do to win is control the tempo of the game, and so, it is important for us to shoot the ball well and especially limit the other team to one scoring chance defensively.
“Controlling the post will be a goal for us all year, and using the rotation we have set up, we think, gives us the best chance to do that.”
The Bulls were picked in a poll of Conference USA coaches to finish last in the conference after posting a 6-20 record last season.
But the addition of eight new players has coaches and players optimistic.
“We aren’t going to have any excuses,” Fernandez said. “We have a lot of talent, and it’s time to get out there and let people know it. We’re excited to get the season started. The players are ready, and it feels good to finally get going.”