Fernandez praises Bulls’ resolve ahead of Tulane game

The Bulls are 2-0 since coming back from their monthlong hiatus. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Following his team’s comeback, overtime win over Cincinnati on Wednesday night, USF women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez had nothing but praise for the No. 12 Bulls (12-1, 9-0 AAC) leading into Saturday night’s matchup against Tulane (14-6, 10-5 AAC).

Fernandez lauded his team’s resilience not only for their performance in the win but for how they’ve handled this whirlwind of a season. The Bulls have managed to consistently perform at a high level despite having a month of inactivity due to COVID-19 protocols.

“I’m just proud of the resolve they’ve had,” Fernandez said. “This has been a tough year for all student-athletes all around the country, and I think they’ve handled it the right way. And I’m just lucky and fortunate to be coaching this group of amazing, amazing women.”

This culture of tenacity and grit within the program isn’t anything new, however. It has been cultivated since before the season even began and the team has been determined to carry out til the end. 

According to senior forward Bethy Mununga, a preseason mantra has helped the team deal with all the adversity it has faced this season.

“At the beginning of the season, we chose three words to describe our team and to live by, which are work over talent, inseparable and trust,” Mununga said. “And  I think those three together is the reason why we won the game [against Cincinnati]. We are really inseparable, like whenever we’re down, we stay calm. We stay focused when talking to each other, we trust each other to make the right pass, extra pass, to make a shot and work while we’re down because we’ve been working hard to be where we are right now.”

Looking ahead to Saturday night’s game against the Green Wave, the Bulls will have to rely on their trademark grit in order to get the win over one of the best teams in the league. Tulane currently sits in fourth place in the AAC and has one of the most complete teams in the conference.

Coach Lisa Stockton’s team is second and third, respectively, in scoring offense and defense.

In their previous matchup Jan. 13, a 72-53 win for USF, the Bulls did a good job of handling Tulane’s three-pronged offensive attack of Jerkaila Jordan, Krystal Freeman and Arsula Clark. USF will have to do much of the same  Saturday in order to keep their 11-game win streak alive.

“Jan. 13 I thought we were getting in our groove offensively,” Fernandez said. ‘I thought we played really well, we shared the ball really well, we shot it. We got to do a great job on Krystal Freeman, then their perimeter guys Clark, Jordan, [Dynah] Jones, [Salma] Bates, [Sierra] Cheatham. We got to do a great job on those guys.”

It’ll help that the Bulls are finally at full strength for the first time since the hiatus, a prospect that has everyone within the program very excited.

“It’s great because we miss each other,” Mununga said. “We haven’t played together for a whole month. 

“The main thing that I like with this team is that everybody brings her own thing. So, whenever we are missing those particularities, we can feel it, but yes I’m definitely excited to be back out there together.”

Finally, Fernandez touched upon the fact that his team, although ranked as the No. 12 team in the nation by the AP Poll, was excluded from the NCAA committee’s top 16 ranking.  

Fernandez said in the grand scheme of things, he isn’t paying much attention to rankings. All he knows is when the postseason comes around, the team will be ready for anyone in the country.

“For me, I don’t care what seed we are, we’ll be ready to go to the NCAA tournament and throw the ball up, we’ll be ready to play.”

The Bulls and the Green Wave tip off Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN+ and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.