Bulls set to take on Washington State in first round of NCAA tournament

Senior center Shae Leverett (above) is the last player remaining on the roster from the 2018 Bulls team that made the NCAA tournament. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

After winning its first-ever AAC Tournament title March 11, the USF women’s basketball team is back to work preparing for its first-round matchup against the Washington State Cougars in the NCAA tournament.

Coach Jose Fernandez and the Bulls (18-3, 12-2 AAC) arrived in Texas for the tournament Tuesday, and have been spending much of their time stuck in their hotel rooms due to COVID-19 precautions. Fernandez said the team is excited to finally get out on the floor.

“We’ve been here since Tuesday … it’s been a long time,” Fernandez said in a press conference Saturday afternoon. “Tuesday and Wednesday we didn’t do anything, we were sequestered in our hotel room. So we’re looking forward to just playing. It’s been a long year as it is, it’s been a long season.”

When the Bulls do eventually take the floor against Washington State (12-11, 9-10 PAC-12), they will be tasked with guarding the talented duo of freshman Charlisse Leger-Walker and her older sister, redshirt senior Krystal Leger-Walker.

“First and foremost they got two really good players in the Leger-Walker sisters. We got to do a really good job defending those guys,” Fernandez said. “[The Cougars] take 25-27 threes, they’ve been tested, they play a really good schedule in the PAC-12.”

Charlisse leads the Cougars in scoring as she averages 18.9 points per game, while Krystal is second in that category with an average of 10 points per contest.

An area of the game where Fernandez believes the Bulls have an edge is their depth. Washington State does not go deep into its bench, as only two reserves average over nine minutes per game. Fernandez also said USF has to be aggressive in attacking the glass and securing rebounds.

“We got to try and play as many people as we can, wear them down. They want to primarily play five or six people,” Fernandez said. “You got two really good teams in a first-round matchup.

“We got to do a great job on the glass … if we’re able to get to the rim, score in the paint and shoot the ball from three-point range like we’ve been shooting, I feel pretty good.”

The last time the Bulls took the floor was in the AAC tournament championship game where they lit up UCF from beyond the three-point arc, shooting 47.4% from long range. They also shot 40.4% from the field and knocked down 17-of-18 free throws, an efficient performance from top to bottom.

Now, Fernandez said the Bulls will practice Saturday and participate in a shootaround Sunday prior to the game.

“We’re really happy to be here, looking forward to tomorrow. We got practice today and a shootaround tomorrow to get ready,” Fernandez said. “Our kids are excited, our staff is excited, so now the next part is fine-tune today and tomorrow and get ready to play tomorrow night.”

The Bulls and Cougars are set to tip off Sunday at 9:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.