Ladies make final cut of NIT

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL GAME TIMEUSF (16-15, 5-11) at FGCU (21-8, 12-3)When: Tonight, 7Where: Alico ArenaTV/Radio: 1010 AM

The possibility of the South Florida women’s basketball team making the Big East tournament seemed unlikely two games before the end of the regular season, when the Bulls found themselves a game under .500 with a 13-14 record.

USF coach Jose Fernandez said many times that if the girls could get to .500, they would not only have a chance to qualify for the conference tournament, but a Women’s National Invitational Tournament (NIT) berth was possible.

The Bulls accomplished their goal, and Monday the NIT invited the Bulls to play against Florida Gulf Coast at Alico Arena in Fort Myers today. The invitation makes this the fifth consecutive year that the Bulls will play in the postseason and the fourth time they will play in the NIT. They received one of the four at-large bids.

When the Bulls play against FGCU, it will be the first time FGCU has ever played in the tournament, since this is its first year in NCAA Division 1. The Bulls are 2-4 in the NIT.

FGCU is an Atlantic Sun Conference team. USF played three Atlantic Sun teams this year – Stetson, North Florida and Belmont – and defeated them all. The winner between USF and FGCU goes on to play Florida, who received a first-round bye.

To get to the NIT, the Bulls needed to win their last two games after losing four of their last five. They defeated Pittsburgh – a team that has been nationally ranked for several weeks – 65-64, then Marquette – a team that defeated USF 79-66 on Jan. 26 – 61-56. The wins pushed the Bulls into 11th place in the Big East, which allows the top 12 teams in the conference to play for a Big East title.

The Bulls went into the tournament one game above .500 with a 15-14 record. The No. 11 seed Bulls played the No. 6 seed Syracuse in the first round. The Orange defeated the Bulls 67-60 on Jan. 12. The Bulls took Syracuse into overtime and won 68-67.

The Bulls lost 64-42 in the second round to the No. 3 seed West Virginia, whose nationally ranked No. 17. Mountaineers got up 52-22 within eight minutes of the second half.