The University of South Florida women's basketball team is keeping its distance from the trappings of March.
And that omnipresent question — Are the Bulls in or out?
"All I know is, we control our own destiny,'' USF coach Jose Fernandez said.
If the Bulls (19-8, 8-6 Big East) can prevail in a noon showdown against No. 3 Connecticut (26-2, 13-1) today at the Sun Dome, USF could be destined for the second NCAA tournament bid in program history.
First things first.
"Of course we're worried about whether we're going to get into the tournament or not,'' Bulls junior guard Inga Orekhova said. "But our main focus is to keep winning games.''
USF has done a good job of that lately, having defeated a pair of top-25 teams (Louisville, Syracuse), while collecting 21 votes in the latest Associated Press poll. The Bulls are on everyone's radar. Have they done enough? The question is premature, mostly because there's so much more that can be accomplished.
And that begins today against UConn, the only Big East program USF has never defeated.
"One thing you really need to avoid against Connecticut, the thing they thrive on, if it's a three- or four-point game, then they go on a 10-2 run or a 12-2 run, you've got to answer that,'' Fernandez said. "If you don't answer, that lead swells to 25, 30 points and it's over. We can't afford to go three or four possessions without scoring.''
Fernandez said he knows the value of a victory against UConn, but "every game is a must-win at this point.'' He's staying away from politicking or selling USF's case, although that's difficult because "we live in an information age'' and the NCAA scenario is constantly discussed.
"I've been here before on the bubble, three times on the wrong side of it,'' said Fernandez, who guided USF to its only NCAA bid during the 2005-06 season. "I know what goes on in the room. … You would think if we do what we need to do — and that's win games — to put ourselves in good position, there's no way they can keep you out.''
Winning games is easily understood.
The rest? Not so much.
"I try not to pay attention to it, because sometimes I get confused as to who's in, who's not in and why that is,'' USF senior guard Andrell Smith said. "I know we're feeling much better about ourselves lately.
"It actually is exciting, going from not being talked about to people saying, 'You know what? They're not bad. Let's rank those guys.' We like it when others shout out our name. We must be doing something right if other people think so, too. We just need to not get caught up in it and we need the winning to continue. Then we'll be just fine.''
NO. 17 UCLA 58,
ARIZONA STATE 50
Kari Korver scored a career-high 17 points — including all five of UCLA's 3-pointers — and the Bruins (22-6, 13-4) defeated Arizona State (13-16, 5-12).
The victory assured UCLA of the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tourney.
The Associated Press