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USF ready for Big East

The USF women’s basketball team has been heating up over the winter break, just in time for Big East Conference play.

The Bulls (10-3) have had a lot going on over the break, which included a trip to Cancun, Mexico and the long awaited USF debut of transfer Brittany Denson.

USF traveled to Cancun in mid-December for the Caribbean Classic – a two-day tournament featuring teams from some of the toughest conferences around the nation. The Bulls tipped off against Oregon and walked away with a decisive 10-point victory. USF also won its second game against Belmont to leave Cancun perfect.

For the Bulls, playing outside of the continental United States has been good under head coach Jose Fernandez. Actually, they have been perfect: USF has a 5-0 record under Fernandez in such games.

“A trip like that, where we leave the country, is really like a reward for the players,” Fernandez said. “We’ve been very fortunate that the Athletic Department and Doug Woolard understand how important trips like that are to improve our program. The kids know that these are business trips, but they appreciate them, and they really help the team bond.”

When the Bulls returned home to play Yale on Dec. 30, it proved to be a historic night. The Bulls beat Yale 105-71- the first time the team had scored 100 points or more against a Division-1 opponent since 2001. The victory also marked the eighth straight for the Bulls – the longest winning streak of Fernandez’s career at USF.

The game against Yale also solidified junior Shantia Grace as one of the best players to ever wear a USF uniform. Grace, who poured in a career-high 30 points against the Bulldogs, scored her 1,000th career point in the contest. Grace became just the 16th player in the history of USF women’s basketball to achieve the milestone.

“Shantia has been a major contributor on this team since she’s been here, and she’s one of the main reasons we have made it to the NCAA and NIT the last two years,” Fernandez said. “I think she is one of the best guards in the Big East, and maybe the country. We also know that she has a lot of basketball left to play for us.”

The Bulls were also able to add a new player to their lineup over the break. After sitting out one year because of NCAA transfer rules, sophomore Brittany Denson made her USF debut. Denson transferred from the University of Miami last year, and has made an immediate impact. She has played in four games for USF, and is averaging 7.3 points and six rebounds per game.

“Having Brittany in the lineup gives us more depth in the post,” Fernandez said. “She plays great defense, can run up and down the floor, and has the ability to put up points offensively.”

Even with everything positive happening for USF, the Bulls did slip up once in December. In their final non-conference game of the season, the Bulls lost 74-48 to Vanderbilt – a team which is receiving votes in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls.

“We are in the same spot we were last year, at 10-3 starting Big East play,” Fernandez said. “I really feel the league is better and stronger this year, because not many players graduated. In order for us to win in the Big East, we need to rebound better and play better defense.”

For the Bulls, the season has played out in their favor so far. As conference play rolls around, USF will need to keep the momentum going if they hope to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.