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Still with something to prove

It was probably the toughest loss the USF women’s basketball team experienced all season, mostly because it was the one loss that ended it.

And it was tough for some of the Bulls to speak about what went wrong after the loss to Richmond in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament on Thursday, mainly because they felt they should have walked away with a victory.

But USF junior point guard Anedra Gilmore found some words that shed some light on what maybe went wrong for the Bulls in the loss and maybe even in the days leading up to the contest, the program’s first postseason game in 26 years. And though it probably was tough for Gilmore to express her thoughts, she made what seems like some good points.

“I think, being so young, (the freshmen) didn’t understand the magnitude of this game,” Gilmore said after the game. “I know they understood that if we lost, we were through, but I don’t think they really understood the magnitude of winning and what it would of meant to us as a program, to us as a team — to us as a confidence builder.

“(But) I think if they didn’t know what this meant before, they know now what it means now because everyone in the locker room is hurt.”

The hurt the Bulls felt after the game may be what pushes the team next season. And that really is something more valuable than a win because, with that loss, the Bulls now have the extra motivation to prove once again they aren’t a bottom-tier team.

USF defied the odds this season and made a mockery out of preseason implications. Picked to finish dead last in Conference USA, USF coach Jose Fernandez’s squad did anything but, with a .500 record in both conference play and overall.

And it wasn’t beating the lower teams that pushed the Bulls to where they were. It was beating a team like TCU, which spent almost the entire season in the top 25. It was tough — there were close losses to Houston and DePaul, games the Bulls might have won had they come later in the season when the team really began to click.

What carried the Bulls early in the season was motivation to prove everyone wrong, to prove that they weren’t the worst team in C-USA, to prove they deserved to be mentioned with teams like Cincinnati, Marquette, Louisville and all the other top teams in the conference, rather than the likes of UAB, Southern Miss and Tulane.

And when the Bulls were able to make that statement, what motivated them toward the end of the season was a chance to make history by reaching the postseason. And the Bulls answered the call with a late surge and received an invitation to the WNIT.

The loss to Richmond should motivate the Bulls to prove this season wasn’t a fluke. And as much as it may sound negative toward the program after achieving so much this season, proving this season wasn’t a fluke is exactly what the Bulls need to do next year.

What can’t be understated is the experience the young team gained this season. They got to feel the long wait of being a bubble team, even if they got rewarded in the end. They got the experience of playing in a conference tournament, even if it was limited. They got the experience the postseason, even if it was just a taste. And it couldn’t have played out any better.

With every starter set to return next season, postseason experience was a gift for players like freshmen Nalini Miller, Jessica Dickson and Rachael Sheats, the talented core of the team for probably the next three seasons. Being able to go to the postseason in their first season paves the way for the rest of their careers. They now know what needs to be done to get back to that point, and it surely is the only thing on their minds.

And it should be the only thing on their minds. Though the Bulls adopted the motto of “something to prove” before the season, if they thought they had accomplished that then they’re mistaken. Now they really have to prove something to themselves.

They have to prove they truly do belong, that they deserve to be mentioned with the better teams and not the worst, and that they deserved to make the postseason. Finally, they need to prove that they deserve to be remembered as the squad that made history at USF and not go down as a faded memory.

Many Bulls players said before the Richmond game that the postseason was a start to a new season. That is exactly what it was, and hopefully the first loss of the season provides enough motivation for the Bulls so they can go out and prove to the rest of the country that they truly belong.