As the euphoria of Saturday’s dramatic victory began to vanish, the University of South Florida wasted little time shifting its focus to the next huge obstacle in its path at the women’s NCAA tournament..
The Bulls briefly savored a 71-70 victory against fading Texas Tech in the Lady Raiders’ back yard as reality comes calling with a matchup against No.?2-seeded Cal in the second round of the Spokane Regional.
“For us, the big key is how well we defend dribble penetration, how well we defend the paint and how well we win the glass,” Bulls head coach Jose Fernandez said Sunday. “I think offensive and defensive rebounding is going to be crucial at the end of tomorrow night.”
The game is scheduled for a 9:30 p.m. tip at United Spirit Arena on the campus of Texas Tech and will be televised on ESPN2. The No.?10-seeded Bulls (22-10) overcame a three-point deficit and a hostile crowd with 2:06 to play Saturday night in winning their first NCAA tourney game and sending Tech to its fourth consecutive loss. Today’s winner earns a ticket to the regional semifinals that begin next week.
“Of course, we are not satisfied with winning one game,” said USF’s Inga Orekhova, who drained a critical 3-pointer with just more than a minute left. “It was a goal, winning the game, but now we have to go to the next step and beat Cal.”
That next step most likely will be difficult against the sixth-ranked Bears, who look to extend the best year in program history. Cal (29-3) moved into the second round on the strength of a 90-76 win against Fresno State earlier Saturday.
“They are terrific,” Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of the Bulls. “I have known that by following scores and seeing them play a little bit throughout the year, but now really focusing on them. They are a team that definitely feels like a Top 25 team.”
The game should present interesting matchup challenges for each team. USF’s guard-dominated and up-tempo attack should create pressure for Cal and opportunity for the Bulls.
“They are incredibly athletic,” Gottlieb said. “They play with a great pace. They have tremendous guard play, and I think the posts in some ways are underestimated, and you can’t overlook them because they make big plays. They are a terrific team and we will have our hands full.”
The same will be true for USF, which must find a way to negate Cal’s formidable front line. The Bears’ size advantage slowly and surely wore down Fresno State, outscoring the Bulldogs 34-14 in the paint while enjoying a 51-28 rebounding advantage.
“It’s a very athletic front line,” Fernandez said, “a very strong front line. It’s going to be crucial that we can’t take plays off. I think the game is going to won or lost in the paint.”
Cal had five players finish in double figures Saturday, including guard Brittany Boyd, who with 21 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, barely missed a triple-double.
“They pretty much look like us,” USF guard Andrell Smith said. “A run-and-gun team, athletic and physical, but their low-post play and inside play is very good, but we also have a low-post play that is very good as well. I saw that their defense is pretty good, and they are up-tempo like us.”
Both teams expect the game to be physical with defensive intensity ratcheted up, especially after each had stretches of less-than-inspired defensive play in their tourney openers.
“We want to defend the 3-point line better,” said Gottlieb, whose team gave up a dozen 3-pointers against Fresno, “and I think the way it will look against South Florida will be different because they’re a different style, but we want to make sure we’re not giving up uncontested looks.”
“We have to match their intensity,” USF guard Andrea Smith said. “Bring our game, play four minutes at a time, two 20-minute halves together and just play basketball. Do what we’ve been doing all year.”