A November challenge awaits

USF faces No. 15 Texas on Friday. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

It’s November, which means a few things.

Cranberries infused into everything, radio stations flipping to all-Christmas music way too early, eventually some turkey — and, oh yeah, USF women’s basketball playing an incredibly tough nonconference schedule.

The Bulls welcome No. 15 Texas to the Yuengling Center on Friday at 7 p.m. in the first of three games against top seeds from last season’s NCAA Tournament in the span of a month.

In addition to the Longhorns, the Bulls face national champion Baylor on the road Nov. 19 and runner-up Notre Dame in Cancun on Nov. 30.

“I think one thing that we’ve really challenged ourselves with is November and December,” coach Jose Fernandez said, “putting our kids in a position to have those opportunities to be tested either on the road, at home or on a neutral floor.

“You’re going to be judged at the end of the year on how your team played, how successful you were — wins and losses, how you did in your league — but also on how you scheduled. And there’s never a question on how we approach that.”

It’s a daunting schedule, no doubt, but it’s something the Bulls are ready for.

“I mean, that’s why you come to South Florida and play for coach Jose, because he schedules what he schedules,” junior guard Enna Pehadzic said. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to play the best.”

Plus, for a team with a powerhouse like UConn in its conference — well, until the end of this season, at least — the early challenges are welcome.

“It’s just going to be like, we’ve already been in a situation like that,” Pehadzic said. “So when we go against UConn, we will feel [calmer], more confident, trusting each other and trusting our coaches in preparing us for those challenges that will come.”

The Bulls enter this tough stretch in a better position than they were most of last season, when they were hampered by injuries. 

USF’s depth was on display during its 70-39 victory over Jacksonville on Tuesday. Eleven players saw action — by comparison, most nights during conference play last season, the Bulls could only suit up a little more than half that number.

One of the players who was out for the majority of the season with a foot injury was sophomore center Beatriz Jordao, who scored nine points in eight minutes Tuesday.

“It’s just, I woke up [the next] morning and I was like, ‘OK, I did it,” Jordao said with a laugh. “And I feel so happy because I’m able to help my teammates on the court. … I love basketball, so I’m really happy right now.”

While Jordao played less than 10 minutes against Jacksonville, Fernandez said to expect more of her against Texas — and Jordao is ready for the challenge.

“I just want to go on the court and give the best that I can,” Jordao said. “It doesn’t matter if it is seven minutes, if it is 10-20-30 — doesn’t matter. I’m going to the court, and I’m going to do my job. And for Texas, I’m very excited, as you can expect, and I just hope to do my best.”

But there are still injuries and other factors keeping Fernandez’s team from being 100 percent.

“This team is also still playing without Sydni Harvey, Silvia Serrat,” Fernandez said. “Sydni Harvey was an all-freshmen guy who was averaging double figures for us. That just shows the depth of our team and how we recruited as well.”

Fernandez added that Harvey was about four weeks away before a decision could be made on whether she’ll play this season.

“I think we’re pretty deep right now,” Fernandez said. “Do we want to play her, or not play her and she still has three years of basketball to play and having the whole season to get better. We’re not at that decision time yet, but when that decision time comes, we’ll do what’s best for her.”

With or without Harvey, though, USF has a few big challenges coming up. But the Bulls don’t have to worry about proving anything during that tough stretch, according to Jordao.

“I think we just need to worry about us,” Jordao said. “We don’t need to prove that we are really good. We just need to [play] our game and things will happen naturally.”