Coach Jose Fernandez has come full circle with the USF women’s basketball team. After losing in the WNIT last season, Fernandez promised a return to the NCAA Tournament, since he felt last year’s team missed the cut by the slightest of margins.
USF Athletics hosted a NCAA selection show watch party Monday and welcomed hundreds of fans, family and loyal season ticket holders into the Sun Dome for the big reveal. As news of the Bulls’ No. 6 seeding broke, the crowd and players erupted in excitement.
“This is way better than last year,” junior forward Alisia Jenkins said. “My emotions are through the Sun Dome roof right now.”
Now the Bulls are back for the third time in program history — they enter this year’s field as the sixth seed in the Albany Region, highlighted by conference rival and number one overall UConn. In addition, because USF was selected as the No. 6 seed for its region, the program’s highest selection in three trips, the university has been chosen to host the first two rounds of the tournament within its region.
“There’s no place like home,” Fernandez said. “This all started in the offseason with the time and the work they put in to get to this point and it’s finally paying off for these players.”
Upperclassmen like junior guard Courtney Williams showed their joy when USF’s name was shown, but players like her know this is just the start of hopefully a long road ahead.
“It was really exciting to hear our name called,” Williams said. “I feel like I heard the cheers and screams even before they announced our seeding, but I’m excited that we’re in, especially getting to start off playing at home. It’s a great atmosphere here and I can’t wait to see everyone coming out to support us.”
When asked if he had any reservations about promising an NCAA tournament return, Fernandez laughed at the notion, saying he has no regrets.
“I felt that we had a good basketball team and I knew who we had coming back,” Fernandez said. “If we stayed healthy this year, I knew we would have a great year and we most certainly did.”
In the final AP Top 25 poll of the season, USF once again climbed back into the ranks of the nation’s best teams, coming in at No. 25. USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan said this type of national attention should be more than enough to show students how much their support will mean in these crucial games.
A pep rally will be held Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. in the Marshall Student Center amphitheater to get fans excited for the weekend’s festivities.
“I do not want to see purple in this arena on Saturday,” Harlan said. “We will be watched nationwide on how we fill up and this team deserves our full
USF will host the No. 11 seed LSU Tigers on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in the Sun Dome. The first 500 students with their USF ID will receive free access to the game. After the first 500, tickets will go on sale for $8 for students and $18 for non-students.