Bulls set to host exhibition Saturday

While most people will be putting away their Halloween decorations Saturday, a full-strength South Florida women’s basketball team will hit the court at 3 p.m. for an exhibition game against the Miami Sun.

It’s good news, considering the Bulls were spooked by injuries as they approached the new season.

Two weeks ago at coach Jose Fernandez’s first press conference of the year, he said a couple of key players might not be back from injury to play by the start of the regular season.

At practice this week, he addressed the situation again.

“I think now we are finally healthy,” he said. “We may be as healthy as we’ve ever been.”

Senior Jessica Lawson and junior Melissa Dalembert — two of the tallest players on the team at 6 feet 3 inches — were struggling with injuries. Lawson was rehabbing a knee injury, and Dalembert said she had a “nagging” back injury. At the first official practice nearly two weeks ago, both sat out of drills and rode stationary bicycles instead.

This week, they were as active as ever.

The Bulls have a steady practice schedule and have scrimmaged against each other, with referees, twice in the past two weeks. At Tuesday’s scrimmage, every member of the squad dressed in green or gold and participated in a green vs. gold game. Senior guard Shantia Grace, a first-team All-Big East selection, said she feels the team is more than ready to “tip-off” the season.

“I think we are pretty much ahead of schedule,” she said. “Everyone is getting up and down the court now, and as a whole I think we are ready to compete.”

Fernandez said having a healthy squad is important in preparing for the season.

“Hopefully we can continue to be healthy this year because there are a lot of different challenges at positions right now for playing time,” he said.

Fernandez said he isn’t sure which players are going to win those position battles. However, the Bulls will be able to test exactly where they are when they play Saturday in the exhibition.

“A lot of things are really undecided,” he said. “That’s why you play these games. I think a lot of players will play Saturday, though.”

One player who will need to stay healthy and be a big part of USF’s season is Grace. She said she is looking forward to finally playing against someone who isn’t wearing green or gold.

“It’s exciting to finally play against different people in a game setting,” she said. “We have some things to work on. We need to become a better defensive team as a whole.”