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Bulls set to defend the Dome

The women’s basketball team and coach Jose Fernandez gathered Wednesday at Marshall Mayhem to build hype for their first game of the NCAA Tournament this saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

After the best regular season performance in program history, USF will look to continue that success in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday against LSU.

Coach Jose Fernandez has said all year his team has talent, and its rise into national spotlight has come at a swift pace. Fernandez said the privilege of having a home-court advantage for the first two rounds definitely won’t hurt USF’s cause. 

“Our kids are familiar with the environment,” Fernandez said. “We’re going to have our season ticket holders, students and the Tampa Bay community here supporting us and it’ll be great.” 

USF was second in the AAC in attendance behind UConn and averaged almost 2,000 fans each game. Fernandez said the rigorous non-conference schedule earlier in the season has prepared the Bulls for their tournament experience. 

Junior guard Courtney Williams said it’s strictly business against LSU. Though the Sun Dome is expected to be packed, she feels no pressure come Saturday. 

“We’ve been working all season,” she said. “Now it’s time for us to show the world what South Florida is all about.” 

Even with such a remarkable season behind them, Williams has acknowledged the late-season loss to East Carolina as a wake-up call that reminds the team there’s always potential for someone to knock the Bulls off their pedestal. 

“That (loss) was great motivation,” Williams said. “It was very humbling for us and I think every team needs that kind of humbling moment.” 

The Bulls have had prolific scoring this season, and average a +12.5 point scoring margin compared to the Lady Tigers’ 3.2 due to a weak defensive presence. USF has maintained this high separation even with one-sided losses against UConn in the regular season. If they can keep up their current pace, then there will be no outdoing the Bulls’ talented starting five. 

USF forwards Laura Ferreira and Alisia Jenkins will try to continue their dominant play by outmatching LSU in the paint. The duo combined for almost 21 points and 16 rebounds per game in the regular season, nearly double the efforts of LSU forwards Anne Pedersen and Sheila Boykin. 

Williams and the team are focusing on LSU’s guard play, which is three players deep — with starting talent in Danielle Ballard and Raigyne Moncrief, and DaShawn Harden coming off the bench, the three players combine to score an average of 37 points per game for the Lady Tiger’s offense. 

Even though LSU (17-13) is often outrebounded down low, its percentage from beyond the arc is one of the best in the SEC at almost 35 percent. USF (26-7) is often considered a strong team from three, but its season average is just over 33 percent, which gives LSU the slight edge.

While he has high aspirations for the team, Fernandez said he continues to tell the team to take the experience one game at a time.

“I’m going to tell them to just play,” he said. “We won’t be able to be a part of the Sweet 16 unless we take care of business on Saturday.”

No. 6 USF will face No. 11 LSU in the Sun Dome at 6:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2. The first 500 USF students with their student IDs will receive free admission to the game. Students are directed to go to Gate D for entry.

After the first 500 tickets, student tickets are $8 and non-student tickets go on sale for $18. Parking in the Sun Dome lot is free and gates open  at 2:30 p.m. Prior to the LSU vs. USF game, Louisville will face BYU at 4 p.m. Tickets can be bought at the gate or