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Fernandez ties AAC conference wins record after USF defeats ECU

Coach Jose Fernandez has dominated the AAC since the Bulls joined the conference back in 2013. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Coach Jose Fernandez recorded his 118th conference win by leading No. 25 South Florida women’s basketball to a 72-48 victory over East Carolina on Tuesday.

By guiding the Bulls (21-4, 10-0 AAC) to triumph over the Pirates (14-8, 5-4 AAC), Fernandez matched UConn coach Geno Auriemma for most career wins in the American. He is one win away from being the sole record holder.

While reflecting on his career, Fernandez emphasized that meaningful milestones would not be possible without the right people around him.

“It’s a total team effort. The accolades are good and it comes with this, but I’ve been doing it for a long time,” Fernandez said “But sometimes you take a step back and say ‘wow, we did that.’”

Despite being ahead for the entirety of the game, South Florida struggled to beat East Carolina’s pressing zone defense throughout the opening half. ECU had seven steals and caused USF to commit 11 turnovers in the first half.

The Bulls continued to get hassled by the Pirates’ defense as the second half began. ECU was able to close the deficit to as much as three points with under four minutes remaining in the third quarter.

South Florida’s offense flatlined until freshman wing Carla Brito was fouled on a three-pointer. Brito made her free throw to put the Bulls up 42-32 in the third quarter.

Fernandez recalled similar plays Brito made in practice while talking about her innovative approach.

“Sometimes you let some of those guys play because she’s so creative…that’s who she is,” Fernandez said. “You have to live through that a little bit because she can make spectacular plays.”

The freshman wing’s four-point play sunk any comeback hopes ECU had. The Bulls’ lead remained in double digits for the rest of the game. They outscored the Pirates 31-16 points during the final 14 minutes.

Brito finished the game with 20 points, seven rebounds and completed all three of her free throws.

Also supporting the winning effort was reigning AAC player of the week, senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu. She had a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, her 20th of the season.

Fernandez will have a chance at becoming the leader in all-time conference wins when South Florida takes on Southern Methodist on Saturday. This will be the first time the Bulls face the Mustangs (14-6, 5-3 AAC) this season.

Junior guard Sammie Puisis had a team-high of 23 points and made seven of 14 attempts from the three. Puisis said she was ecstatic that she could be a part of the team that helped Fernandez break the record.

“It’s very exciting. He’s a great coach. I love playing for him and he really puts us in good situations. So we were very happy for him.”

Women’s basketball heads to Dallas to face SMU on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and BullsUnlimited.