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Confident Bulls strut into Charlotte

It’s a motto that’s been said all year, like a chant, but was first uttered only in passing conversation: Whatever it takes.

Now, the USF women’s basketball team speaks it like a mantra; a mission that’s certainly unfinished from last year.

A senior said it and she meant it. The freshmen, the sophomores, everyone, including the coach, bought into it; found comfort in its repetition and the confident style it inhabits.

Senior Anedra Gilmore relates to it, saying it like a prayer for all those who want more and deserve it.

“Knowing where we were last year, and not wanting to be there again (has been the motivation),” Gilmore said.

Last year was last year, but this year has been different all because of that adopted slogan, now printed on the back of T-shirts the players will be wearing the 600 miles to Charlotte.

Whatever it takes.

“It’s something to prove, especially from last year,” Gilmore said. “We’ve got to prove that it’s whatever it takes.”

It’s part of a bond — a bond formed by chemistry — that has brought this team to ranks higher than any team of the past.

How was this possible? How did USF do all of this?

“We’re playing the best basketball of the year right now,” said coach Jose Fernandez.

Best basketball of the year? What about all year? This team has outscored its opponents by 300 points and have had 80-plus points in four different games. 70-plus points in six more games. They’ve won five games in a row.

But it’s not enough. They want more like a little kid craves more presents at a birthday party.

They are ready.

They are willing to do whatever it takes.

“They have fun playing the game and they all like each other,” Fernandez said.

“Whatever it takes has been at the top of our practice program all year.”

All year: 28 games. 1120 minutes. 19 wins. Fifth seed in the conference tournament.

“We still have a lot of basketball to play,” Fernandez said. “We want to walk away with that league title and that NCAA berth, for sure.”

Whatever it takes, right, coach?

“We’ve been saying it all year.”

They’ve grown and matured since last year. They’ve become a team that won’t be taken lightly anymore. A team with five-plus bona fide scorers. A team that sent three-time champs UConn into overtime. The word “overtime” hasn’t been uttered in Gampel Pavilion in a decade, and yet USF found relief in walking out of there with a 10-point loss.

“It’s all about chemistry now,” sophomore forward Jessica Dickson said. “We’re having fun on and off the court. It is, it is whatever it takes to win. Whatever it takes to conference. Whatever it takes to go to nationals.”

That chemistry keeps a smile on the players’ faces, which they can’t hide during pregame warm-ups. It makes them laugh during practice when Ezria Parsons makes a half-court shot she wasn’t even trying for.

It makes them better.

“We know we’re going to the tournament and we know we don’t want to get knocked out again,” Gilmore said. “We feel like we have an upper hand going (to Charlotte).”

Gilmore talks with a smile (and one of her weekly new hairdos). Dickson says it with a laugh in her soft-spoken voice. And Fernandez says it with the confidence of a coach; a coach who shrugs off pressure like a winter coat on a January day in Florida.

“We’re ready to go,” Gilmore said. “We’re reading to go and make a statement.”Whatever it takes.