Bulls enter critical final stretch

Coach Jose Fernandez said his team doesn’t deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament if the Bulls lose to Tulsa on Saturday. 

Just three weeks ago, USF women’s basketball was comfortably on its way to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. 

The Bulls were ranked No. 20 in the nation and had lost only three games, with two of those coming against ranked teams. 

Then, USF began to struggle. 

Starting guard and top minute-getter Laia Flores sprained her ankle in a 62-57 loss at Memphis and has been playing through pain since. Within a week, starting forward Tamara Henshaw also twisted her ankle. 

With the bench already depleted from other injuries, USF stumbled down the stretch.

Beginning with the loss to Memphis on Feb. 5, USF has lost three of its past six games as it has lost its national ranking, and a postseason Tournament berth is no longer a given. 

The Bulls have fallen to 34th in RPI, and another upset loss could put them on the outside looking in. 

“We’ve had too good of a year for us not to close it out on the right end of things,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said following the team’s most recent loss on Sunday against Temple. 

The Bulls currently project as a nine seed in the Tournament after recently being listed as a potential seven seed, according to ESPN college basketball expert Charlie Creme. 

With two games remaining on the regular season schedule and one of those being a match-up with No. 1 UConn, the pressure is on USF to close out the season on a high note. 

Tuesday night in Houston, USF bounced back for a 79-50 win over the Cougars, but the Bulls have put themselves in a position where each remaining game will affect their postseason standing. 

“We can’t afford to go to Houston or Tulsa and not play well,” Fernandez said Sunday. “We got to go on the road and win those two games. We don’t deserve to go to the NCAA Tournament if we don’t go and win at Houston, or Tulsa. If we lose one of those, then we have to make it to the American Championship game.”