It’s time to break out the sunscreen.
Well, maybe not.
The South Florida women’s basketball team will spend Thanksgiving weekend in the Caribbean to play in the Paradise Jam Tournament.
However, coach Jose Fernandez said the trip will be focused on basketball, not beaches.
“The teams we are playing down there are three very good basketball teams,” he said. “These games are important because of what’s at stake. These types of games are the kind of games that prepare you for conference play.”
The Bulls (4-0) will play at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. They’ll tip off the tournament against No. 3 University of California (3-0) on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. (EST). Then, USF will face Iowa (3-1) on Friday and finish the weekend in a matchup with Texas Tech (4-0) on Saturday.
USF has played outside the continental United States — in Alaska, Puerto Rico and Mexico — in three of the last four years. The team has an out-of-country record of 6-1.
“Here’s the deal,” Fernandez said. “Our players always understand what’s at stake. They just need to focus on how we play basketball while we’re down there, and we’ll do fine.”
It may be hard to focus, said senior guard Jazmine Sepulveda, considering that the Bulls will face the Golden Bears, one of the top teams in the country. Sepulveda is averaging 15.3 points per game this season.
“We’re excited to play a team that’s ranked very high,” she said. “(The first four games) were a tune-up for this weekend and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
In the first four games, USF outscored opponents by an average margin of 52.25, but the combined record of those four opponents is 4-9.
Fernandez said this weekend will gauge just how good the Bulls really are.
“We’re about to find out who we are as a team,” he said. “We are going to just do what we’ve done in those four games and see what happens.”
The Golden Bears are coming off a 66-52 win over No. 13 Rutgers, and are led by senior forward Ashley Walker, who is averaging 22 points per game this season.
USF senior guard Shantia Grace said she’s excited about the opportunity this weekend presents. Grace set a school record for scoring in a game, with 44, and made another school record with eight three-pointers in Sunday’s 97-43 victory over Coppin State.
“We’re prepared for the Virgin Islands,” Grace said. “Coach kept stressing at the beginning of the season that the first four games would be key for our success in the Virgin Islands. We’re now undefeated, so we have that confidence to go out and play well.”