With four premier programs in women’s basketball preparing for this weekend’s Final Four, it begs the question: Will USF’s women’s basketball program ever reach premier status?
This question popped into my brain as I watched Connecticut’s 63-61 loss to Duke in the regional final Tuesday night. With the move to the Big East this season, the possibility is greater for the Bulls to make a run similar to the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament.
So with the thought of seven players returning from this year’s team and a top 20-ranked recruiting class on its way to school on my mind, I drifted off to sleep.
Little did I know I was about to have a dream that coach Jose Fernandez and his players want to make a reality. As I recall the events that happened, remember that this was all a dream.
After suffering a disappointing loss in the Big East Tournament championship game to the aforementioned Huskies, the Bulls took their No. 2 seed and prepared for a run through the NCAA Tournament.
After coasting through the first two rounds with victories over Army and Virginia Tech, USF faced its first test of the Tournament: Stanford. In the game, senior forward Jessica Dickson led the Bulls with 38 points to eke out a five-point victory.
USF was the popular choice for many basketball fans who thought the Bulls had a chance to get to the Final Four for a shot at their first national title. The team, however, had to go through powerhouse Duke, as the Blue Devils grabbed the No. 1 seed in the bracket.
The Blue Devils, now led by center Alison Bales and guard Wanisha Smith, jumped to an early first-half lead but didn’t have the depth to hang with the Bulls. Despite Dickson’s poor shooting effort, Jessica Jackson and Shantia Grace hit a combined 12 three-pointers off the bench to take down the Blue Devils.
With the win, USF captured its first Final Four bid in school history, and Fernandez made the statement “the Bulls are satisfied with just getting to the Final Four.”
The women’s team continued to prove themselves with a convincing 15-point victory over the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels. Dickson dominated Ivory Latta at both ends of the court, and Nalini Miller had a standout game with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
The Bulls were one game away from their first national title and securing the program’s place among the ranks of Tennessee, Connecticut and LSU. Standing in the way was none other that USF’s nemesis – Connecticut.
After two losses in the regular season and the tough loss in the tournament final, USF had one final shot overtake the Huskies.
And it didn’t disappoint.
USF played its most complete game of the season, with all five starters scoring in double figures as well as Jackson and Grace coming off the bench to combine for 18 points. The Huskies were caught off guard early by the Bulls’ sharp shooting and never recovered.
The game ended with Dickson dribbling out the clock and then heaving the ball into the air as she was mobbed by her teammates. The smile on Fernandez’s face went from ear to ear and remained there for the entire press conference.
The scene of Dickson and Fernandez cutting down the nets was plastered everywhere, and the Bulls had made their statement: USF established a premier program and silenced all the critics.
I was suddenly awaken by my alarm and had to sit for a minute to realize it wasn’t real.
Can the dream become a reality?
If Tristen Webb gets her medical redshirt to return next season, it will allow Grace and Jackson to come off the bench and provide a spark. If incoming freshmen Stephanie Sarosi, Ashley McCray and Melissa Dalembert can make any kind of an impact in their first season, it gives the Bulls depth off the bench in the paint.
If the wing players like Porche Grant, Caitlyn Mitryck or Daiane Parker can step up as freshman, it will allow Dickson to get some rest to be fresh later in games.
These are a lot of ifs, but a run through the tournament is possible and can be more than just a dream.