Survive and advance is the name of the game for the rest of the USF women’s basketball season as it prepares to compete in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in program history.
With its AAC Tournament final loss to UCF in the rearview mirror, the Bulls (24-8, 12-3 AAC) will face off against No. 8-seeded Miami in the first round of the Greensboro Regional on Friday.
“It’s March Madness. This time of the year is the most important,” sophomore guard Elena Tsineke said during a media availability Tuesday. “I’m sure that all the team, coaches, are very excited, including me.”
The Bulls were named a No. 9 seed during Sunday’s NCAA women’s basketball selection show after their impressive showing in the conference tournament. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes (20-12, 10-8 ACC) had a deep postseason run of their own, reaching the ACC Tournament final as a No. 7 seed. They beat a pair of top-25 teams in Louisville and Notre Dame in the process.
Miami is a team that’s similar to the Bulls in that, while it won’t blow away opponents with its offense that averages 61 points per game, its defense is among the best in the country. The Hurricanes are allowing just 58.4 points per game, good for 70th in Division I.
“I think Miami had a great run in the conference tournament,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “[They are] well coached, I think they got a lot of balance. They can play in a variety of ways.
“We’re going to be tested defensively I think with them too. Defensively they can switch a lot of things. It’s a good matchup.”
USF will be heading into the tournament without a key offensive piece in sophomore guard Maria Alvarez, who suffered a knee injury in the regular-season finale against Houston on March 2. Alvarez was one of the team’s best three-point shooters and was usually the Bulls’ first player off the bench.
Despite the blow, Fernandez feels confident in the experienced rotation he has going into the first round matchup. All of the starters from last year’s tournament run are back and will play big roles in the game against the Hurricanes.
“You got five guys that played a lot of minutes in last year’s NCAA Tournament against Washington State, against N.C. State,” Fernandez said. “Maria Alvarez was another kid who played a lot of minutes. Everything’s new to Dulcy [Fankam Mendjiadeu]… hopefully we can get something from [sophomore forward Cristina] Bermejo, [sophomore guard Aerial] Wilson or [freshman guard Sara] Guerreiro.”
The Bulls are trying to advance to the second round of the tournament for the second year in a row. The winner of this game will likely face the No. 1-overall-seeded South Carolina on Sunday.
Big games are nothing new for the Bulls as they played one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country, beating several ranked teams. Tsineke and her teammates won’t be intimidated by the biggest stage in the sport.
“We have played big teams in the past,” she said. “So another good team wouldn’t be a problem for us. We’re going to try to do our best, we’re going to do it together. So, that’s not an issue.”
The Bulls and the Hurricanes will tip off at 11:30 a.m. on Friday at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast on iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.