While the city of Tampa is hosting the 2008 Women’s Final Four, the Bulls found out Thursday they are far away from being a participant.
No. 10 Duke looked to be in mid-season form, blowing out USF 89-52, demonstrating the Bulls they are only in close proximity to a Final Four appearance.
“Duke came out and we had to match their intensity, especially on the defensive end,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “A lot of out kids folded a bit under the pressure.”
While Fernandez has been arguably the best coach in program history, his teams have traditionally struggled against ranked opponents, going 5-22 during his eight-year tenure.
Last season, USF went 1-6 against teams ranked in the Associated Press top-25 and that contributed heavily to their appearance in the WNIT instead of a second-consecutive NCAA Tournament.
The jitters the team had dominated the first half, as USF shot 18.5 percent from the field and was held without a field goal for the final 11:29 seconds heading into halftime.
After a dreadful 20 minutes of basketball, the Bulls defense played poorly to close out the game. The Blue Devils scored at will and closed out the half with 51 points.
Junior Shantia Grace supposed to become the primary scorer this season, but couldn’t find any rhythm and shot 4-for-18 from the field and was forced to play carefully picking up three quick fouls.
During a dominating season opening performance against Bethune-Cookman, USF was able to use its bench out of luxury.
Against the Blue Devils, every player made an appearance on the court out of necessity. Three players fouled out and two finished the game with four. 10 players logged over 10 minutes of action.
Only Grace played fore more than 27 minutes as the 30 team fouls left the bench extremely thin.
Even with the additional minutes from his bench, Duke’s reserves still outscored USF 47-18
“I think Bethune-Cookman and Duke are opposite ends of the spectrum,” Fernandez said. “A lot of people played tonight for the wrong reasons. It was a totally different situation before.”
Even the simple things became a chore for the Bulls. They had trouble in bounding the ball, finished under 60 percent from the free throw line and had eight assists to 22 turnovers.
All this came without the Blue Devils’ All-American candidate, Abby Warner, who sat out the contest after injuring her ankle in the season-opener against Denver.
While the St. Pete Times Forum is just a short-drive away from the USF campus, the Bulls quickly realized how far they must come to compete with the schools that have realistic hopes of battling there in April.
“We need to get better and we will get better in every practice and every game,” Fernandez said. “A lot of our players haven’t been put (against) the caliber of Duke or a (Louisiana State) but we’re going to have to get used to it.”