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Bulls to host two conference rivals this weekend

Coming off two heartbreaking losses in the first weekend of Conference USA play, the USF women’s basketball team hopes to get back to its winning ways when it kicks off a two-game homestand this weekend at the Sun Dome.However, things will not be easy for the Bulls (7-8, 0-2 C-USA) when they host Marquette tonight at 7 before a Sunday matchup at 2 p.m. against DePaul, a team ranked No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and No. 18 in the Associated Press poll.Despite the caliber of the teams the Bulls must face this weekend, USF coach Jose Fernandez stressed the importance for the Bulls to gain at least one win this weekend and avoid a possible 0-4 start in conference play.”It’s definitely two of the top-tier programs in our conference,” Fernandez said. “When you come back from an 0-2 start on the road, you need to turn things around and get one under your belt so you can move on because it doesn’t get any easier going to Saint Louis and Memphis next week.” USF could possibly be without two key members in the starting lineup tonight against the Golden Eagles (12-3, 2-0 C-USA). Freshman center Nalini Miller remains questionable following surgery Monday to remove her wisdom teeth, as does senior guard Melissa Tape following a concussion in Sunday’s loss to East Carolina. Neither player has practiced this week. The injuries may prove exceptionally difficult to overcome against a team the Bulls have never defeated in nine previous meetings.Fernandez expressed the importance for his team to use its pressure defense against the Golden Eagles to create baskets in transition, rather than playing into Marquette’s 2-3-zone defense with a half-court offense, which is where other teams have run into problems.”Our pressure has to be relentless (on) the half court,” Fernandez said. “We have to create some scoring opportunities off of our pressure defense. We just cannot continue to come down the floor against them, like a lot of teams have this year, not five against five against their zone.” Should Miller not be able to play tonight, Fernandez has toyed with the idea of using a smaller, quicker lineup in order to penetrate the zone and allow the players to get off better shots from the outside.Sophomore Sharon Cambridge and junior Andrea Armstrong remain the only true post options for the Bulls with Miller out, and neither player averages more than six points per game.There is some good news for the Bulls. Junior point guard Anedra Gilmore will play this weekend after recovering from a back injury suffered against Georgia, and sophomore forward Ezria Parsons has fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered against Canisius.The Bulls’ toughest challenge of the weekend, and possibly the season, should come Sunday against the Blue Demons (14-1, 2-0 C-USA), a team whose only loss this season came in overtime against then No. 5 Tennessee.

DePaul’s Khara Smith, C-USA’s leading scorer and rebounder and conference player of the year candidate, leads a potent offense that averages a conference-best 92.3 ppg.

The Blue Demons have topped the century mark five times already this season, which tied the conference record. The lowest point total for DePaul has been two games at 70 points, and both were victories.

What could help the Bulls in an eventual shootout is the success this season in high-scoring games. USF is undefeated when scoring more than 70 points, but the Bulls are winless when scoring less than 59. DePaul allows an average of 66 ppg.

Sayles out indefinitely

Junior forward Rae Rae Sayles is out indefinitely, according to coach Jose Fernandez. Sayles has not played since the Bulls were defeated by Florida in the Sun Dome on Dec. 2.

Sayles was suspended three games for violating team rules following the loss to the Gators. The suspension was then extended through non-conference play before Fernandez said Thursday Sayles would be inactive this weekend and there was no timetable for her return.

“We’re also thinking of possibly redshirting her right now with the amount of action she’s missed,” Fernandez said.

Sayles, who averaged 8.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in five games this season, was named tournament MVP of the USF Best Western Roundball Classic, which preceded the game against Florida.