Blue Demons haunt the Bulls

A lot can change in just one season.

Last season, the women’s basketball team was basking in the glow of its first NCAA tournament bid. This season, the Bulls walked around with blank stares after being snubbed on a second tournament bid.

Last season, coach Jose Fernandez had an ear-to-ear smile that remained on his face the entire night. This season, he sat in a quiet room answering questions about why his team didn’t make it.

There was a feeling of hope in the Big East conference room last year, but this year was a feeling of expectation. USF was supposed to get in this year, but instead is left to ponder the what-ifs of the season.

Is the season a disappointment? Did the Bulls underachieve in 2007?

It’s a combination of both.

“This is a disappointment because our seniors went to the NIT as freshmen and went to the NCAA (tournament) last season,” Fernandez said.

Not making the NCAA is a disappointment for this year’s team after the momentum that was built in 2006. Senior forward Jessica Dickson, along with seniors Nalini Miller, Tristen Webb and Rachel Sheats had the experience to lead this team back to the tournament.

“I don’t think our season was a disappointment,” Dickson said. “It’s just a disappointment to not make it back to the NCAA tournament.”

This team was supposed to be a deeper team than last season’s and a top-30 recruiting class has the Bulls poised to be a continual contender in the Big East. This team was going to make noise in conference play and take another step forward.

Instead, it took a quiet step back.

“I had very high expectations for this team, especially at the beginning of the year and throughout the year,” Fernandez said. “It’s disappointing and I think it’s a step back. It’s tough.”

The Bulls were tied for second place in the Big East after a victory over St. John’s in early February. USF just needed to finish the season strong, capture a first-round bye in the Big East tournament and basically stamp its ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

But the Bulls faltered down the stretch, losing five of their last seven games, including a home game to Pittsburgh and on the road against DePaul.

The loss to DePaul seems to be the game that came back to hurt USF, as the Blue Demons got into the tournament as a No. 10 seed. USF had an RPI of 31 compared to DePaul at 60, as well as better overall and conference records. USF fell short and DePaul is going dancing.

Judy Southard, NCAA women’s basketball committee chair, said USF was one of 18 teams on the board as the committee went down its list of teams. Southard pointed out USF’s record against Top 50 and Top 100 teams.

“USF was 2-10 against Top 50 teams and 5-11 against Top 100 teams, and I think that played a factor in the decision,” Southard said.

So as the spots in the brackets kept filling up and the Big East conference room grew silent, the Bulls’ RPI played a small part in the NCAA tournament selection.

The Bulls must now turn their attention to the WNIT and prepare themselves for the postseason.

This postseason berth, however, is a disappointment.