The USF women’s basketball team sang the alma mater one final time this season while looking painfully upon the throngs of remaining fans singing along.
The Bulls’ best season in program history came to an abrupt end Monday night when No. 6 USF was defeated by No. 3 Louisville, 60-52.
Just over 10,000 combined fans came out to the Sun Dome over the first and second round to support the Bulls, an audience which coach Jose Fernandez and his team are far from accustomed to playing in front of.
The unusual support was due to USF hosting two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, something the school has never done before. What fans saw during those two games was the best USF basketball team to play in recent history.
The 2014-15 team achieved the highest NCAA seeding in school history, tied the school record for wins at 27 with the 2009 team and earned a first-ever rank in the AP Poll.
Fernandez said the key to the team’s recent success is due to the coaching staff he’s assembled throughout the years and how they bring players in.
“I think it starts with our staff,” he said. “We’ve had some very good continuity through the years. Jeff (Osterman) has been on our staff for 10 years and Michelle (Woods-Baxter) has been with me for seven, and I was able to bring Jessica Dickson, our all-time leading scorer, on staff. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, and I have some great people that do a great job recruiting, do a great job with player development, and it starts there. I think the big piece is recruiting.”
While USF exceeded any and all reasonable expectations placed on it before the season, the Bulls’ ultimate goal of reaching the Women’s Final Four in Tampa was cut short Monday night, and Fernandez said the memory of that loss is all the motivation needed for an even better performance in 2016.
“I think sometimes with this team being so young, you get to be put in this position so you remember the pain in that locker room so that it doesn’t happen again,” Fernandez said after the loss. “And the beauty of it is we had a lot of young guys — Katelyn Weber is a sophomore, (Laura) Ferreira and (Maria) Jespersen are freshmen. We got both our point guards back, and you got the two all-conference guys with Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins, who do a great job.”
The Bulls will return all players on roster with the exception of Tamara Taylor and Ivana Vuletic, who will be graduating.
Taylor played in all 35 games and averaged 8.2 points in 16.7 minutes on the floor. The senior shot 37 percent on her 3-pointers and tied for the second best average on the team.
Vuletic played in only two games for the Bulls.
Men’s golf secures fourth-place finish
No. 9 USF finished in fourth place with a score of three-over par at the Valspar Collegiate Invitational on Tuesday in Palm City, Florida.
No. 2 FSU took home the top spot in the 15-team invitational with a final score of 17-under, and beat No. 14 LSU by five strokes. No. 7 South Carolina took third place with a score of 11-under.
The Bulls were led by freshman Claudio Correa, who finished in fifth place after shooting four-under over the two-day event.
Sophomore Rigel Fernandes came into Tuesday two strokes behind the leader with a score of six-under, but he squandered his opportunity at a first-place finish by shooting a three-over 74 in his final round. Fernandes ended the invitational in a tie for sixth place at three-under.
The Bulls will play in their final regular season match in the Irish Creek Collegiate on April 11 in Kannapolis, North Carolina.
Women’s golf takes ninth at Briar’s Creek
After carding a first-round score of 309, the Bulls were able to bounce back Tuesday at the Golf Club at Briar’s Creek and shot 299 and 292 in the final two rounds to claim ninth place in the 17-team event.
UF won the event with a final combined score of 866, which was 34 strokes better than USF.
Redshirt freshman Maria Rodriguez tied for eighth with a score of two-over through three rounds.
Rodriguez was a big reason for the Bulls’ late comeback. The freshman shot a team-low four-under in the final round — four strokes better than any other finish by a Bull during the event.
USF will play in its final regular season match at the Web.com Intercollegiate in Pontre Vedra Beach, Florida starting March 30.