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Motivated Bulls ‘expect’ to win WNIT


USF coach Jose Fernandez’s reaction to the NCAA Selection Show on Monday was probably best surmised in the thoughts he shared with the Tampa Tribune: “The whole thing is flawed.”

Two days later, Fernandez cooled off and looked at being left out as motivation, as the team enters the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).

“(Motivation) is all you can use it for,” Fernandez said. “I think when we won it in 2009, it was almost like they were taking it out on the committee game-by-game. If that is what is going to add extra fuel and motivation to the fire, then that’s great.”

Unlike 2009, this year’s WNIT includes a strong field of teams.

The 10 regular season conference champion teams featured in the tournament ties a WNIT record set last year.

USF’s (19-12) first game of the tournament, a Friday home game against the North Carolina A&T Aggies, will be their first matchup against them in program history.

The Aggies (24-6) have been a popular team in the WNIT. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference semifinalists match the USF’s four tournament appearances in the past six years.

The difference between the two teams is that USF has previously won a WNIT title, and they are looking to do something no program has done since the tournament’s
conception in 1998 — win two championships.

“We expect to win (the WNIT),” sophomore guard Courtney Williams said. “We should have been chosen for the NCAA Tournament, anyway, so this is going to show that we should have been chosen.”

What makes Williams even more confident is the defense, she said.

“I think our defense has come a long way,” Williams said. “I think if we would have been playing the defense we played now in the first half of the season, it definitely wouldn’t have been the way it was.”

USF finished the later half of the season with two key defensive performances that contributed to their fourth-best scoring defense amongst the AAC.

On Feb. 16, the Bulls were not able to pull off an upset victory at the Sun Dome against No. 1 UConn, but held the undefeated Huskies to their lowest point total, 63, this season.

Later, during the AAC Tournament semifinal game on March 9, USF traded blows with No. 4 Louisville in a back-and-forth game until under a minute left, when USF lost 60-56.

“I think we’ve really taken pride on the defensive end of the floor in January, February and March,” Fernandez said. “We’ve become a better
defensive team.”

The Bulls rank No. 8 out of the 10 teams in the AAC in three-point defense. A&T’s leading three-point shooter, Tracy King, is 37 percent from that range, which matches AAC players such as Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel and UConn’s Breanna Stewart.

For USF, Williams and senior guard Inga Orekhova leads the team in scoring. While Williams has been finding opportunities to score from play calls, Orekhova’s free throw accuracy and 3-pointers help generate points.

Orekhova needs four points to reach 1,000 in her USF career.

The USF Bulls open the WNIT at home against North Carolina A&T on Friday night at 7.