Basketball is back! The ladies, under Coach Jose Fernandez (145-81), are hoping to get back to the post-season, but this time making it to the NCAA tournament. The Bulls went to the WNIT last year, falling in the quarterfinals, but made it 10 postseason appearances in 11 years, making them one of the most successful programs at USF. The roster will have a few new faces but has a lot of veteran leadership. Let’s see what this team is all about entering the year.
Let’s start by taking a look back at the 2013 season. USF went 23-13 (13-5 in the AAC) and finished 3rd in the conference, behind Louisville and Uconn. The Bulls averaged 67 PPG throughout the year on their way to the WNIT quarterfinals while allowing 59 PPG. They out-rebounded opponents 44.3 to 37.4 (+6.9) and had an assist to turnover ratio of .9 on the year. The Bulls ran a fast tempo offense and were able to out-run must of their opponents throughout the year, making them one of the better teams in the AAC.
Entering 2014, there are two standouts that are no longer with USF, Inga Orekhova and Akila McDonald. Orekhova a 1000 point scorer in her career and McDonald, one of the best rebounders in program history are now gone, leaving behind two huge holes to fill for the upcoming season. However, despite the loss of two talented starters, the Bulls added several top recruits again and they will need them all with a daunting schedule ahead.
The Bulls fell short of the NCAA tournament last year thanks to a rather light schedule that lacked opponents in the top 65 RPI. This season, Coach Fernandez and crew are not taking any chances of that and have filled the schedule with tons of challenges. They will face Maryland (RPI of 11), Penn State (RPI 12), Kentucky (RPI 9), UT Chattanooga (47), Villanova (55) and Stetson (58) on the schedule to help bolster their resume and chances of making noise this year. Add in Uconn in the AAC, the Bulls have a tough schedule this year, putting a lot of pressure on the ladies and the coaching staff, but they are ready. The Bulls have a loaded roster that is ready to make noise and get back to the NCAA tournament (have been twice in program history). Here are the players that will lead the way for the Bulls.
#20 Laura Ferreira – 5’11” – Freshman – Forward – Lisboa, Portugal
Ferreira was a member of the Portugal U-16, 18, and 20 teams and became arguably the best player in Portugal. Last season she averaged 11.7 PPG and 7 RPG. She is a small forward player that can get her own shot and also distribute the ball like a PG in the open court. Ferreira is a very interesting player entering the year. She has solid size for the small forward spot and is ideal for running the style of offense the Bulls like. She should see plenty of minutes this year and could be another player Coach Fernandez brought over from Europe that has a huge impact in her first year.
#22 Laia Flores – 5’7″ – Freshman – Guard – Mataro, Spain (Institute Municipal Biada)
Flores, one of the best players in Spain and a former teammate of Ariadna Pujol, joins the Bulls this year and becomes an instant addition to the point guard position. Flores is a speedy point guard that has range and the ability to spot up anywhere. The Bulls struggled a lot last year at point guard with Shalethia Stringfield and Laura Marcos Canedo rotating in and out at point guard. If USF wants to have a solid player to start each game and added offense from the PG spot, Flores might be the player the Bulls can look to for that job.
#32 Maria Jesperson – 6′ – Freshman – Forward/Guard – Hojbjerg, Denmark
Jesperson averaged 14.2 PPG, 8 RPG, and 3 APG during the 12-13 season and brings a unique blend of skills to the team this year. She is a tall player that can play the forward position (either at the 3 or 4 spot) but also has the skills to play the ball and play at the guard position if called upon. She is a very interesting player to watch this year and will be very versatile whether she starts or comes off the bench for the Bulls.
#12 Bree Brooks – 5’6″ – Junior – Guard – Tyler, TX (John Tyler HS) (Weatherford College)
Rated as the top JUCO point guard in last year’s recruiting class, Brooks is an instant spark on offense for the Bulls (3rd rated overall JUCO player as well). Brooks is a quick guard that can drive to the basket but can also create her own shots with some range. The question for her is, is she a starter to begin the season? The Bulls struggled last year to find consistency at the point guard position with Shalethia Stringfield and Laura Marcos Canedo splitting time at the starting PG spot.
#14 Paige Cashin – 6’4″ – Sophomore – Forward/Center – Newark, NJ (Newark HS)
Cashin played in 14 games last year. She scored 11 total points and pulled down 15 rebounds while adding 3 blocks and 1 steal in limited playing time. Cashin has the size needed inside for the Bulls under the basket, but is she a starter this year? She will be battling Katelyn Weber and Ivana Vuletic for the starting position of center, but could get spot starts when the Bulls want to go with a bigger lineup. It will be interesting to see how the Bulls use Cashin and her height in the paint this year.
#24 Alisia Jenkins – 6’1″ – Junior – Forward – Statesboro, GA (Statesboro HS)
Jenkins started all 36 games last year, earning 2nd team All AAC honors. Jenkins had 14 double-doubles during the year and totaled 369 rebounds, 2nd most in a single season in program history. Overall, she averaged 9.6 PPG (116 for 274, 345 total points), 10.3 RPG, while adding 43 assists, 41 blocks, and 37 steals during the year. Jenkins is almost a double-double every game and comes up big for the Bulls. She is one of the starters and leaders of this team and should be set for another big season on the starting 5. Look for her to put up similar numbers to last year with even more scoring possible for her.
#2 Micah Kroll – 5’8″ – Junior – Guard – Tampa, FL (Tampa Catholic HS)
Kroll appeared in just 10 games last year, mostly as a late game reserve when games were decided in the final minutes. She scored 10 points overall, adding 3 rebounds, 1 assist and had 1 steal. Kroll is a fairly accurate shooter from long range, but she probably won’t see a lot of playing time again this year. Look for her to come in for late game situations and to add a little spark from beyond the arc.
#31 Laura Marcos Canedo – 5’8″ – Sophomore – Guard – Salamanca, Spain (Colegio Champagnat)
Canedo started in 20 games in a total of 28 games she played in. She scored 36 total points (15 for 54) and had 23 rebounds. She also added 42 assists (24 turnovers) and had 7 steals. After Shalethia Stringfield struggled to start the year, Canedo took over as the starting point guard, but she struggled at times to get the offense going and was replaced often by Stringfield. Entering the year, it will be very interesting to see who takes over as the starting PG. Canedo will be in the running to win the job. If she can add something to the offense, she will see more playing time.
#5 Trimaine McCullough – 5’8″ – Sophomore – Guard – Orlando, FL (Edgewater HS)
McCullough played in 14 games last year, starting 5 of them before missing the rest of the year with a torn ACL suffered in January. In her brief playing time, she averaged 2.2 PPG (31 points total), 1.7 RPG (24 rebounds total), and added 29 assists, 1 block, and had 4 steals. The question on McCullough will be if she is healthy and ready for the year. If she is, then she will slowly be brought back into the games and brought back into the game rhythm. Let’s hope she is ready to go for this season.
#15 Shavontae Naylor – 5’9″ – Junior – Forward – Ocala, FL (Southwest Atlanta Christian HS)
Naylor appeared in 35 games last season, scoring 97 total points (2.7 PPG). She added 77 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 blocks, and 17 steals in limited playing time. Naylor was a bench player for the Bulls last year and could be facing the same fate this year. She is a solid guard that can score, but the starting 5 might already be set, making it hard for her to crack the starting 5.
#4 Neena Pacholke – 5’7″ – Sophomore – Guard – Tampa, FL (Freedom HS)
Pacholke appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, scoring 1 3-pointer and pulling down 1 rebound. Like Micah Kroll, Pacholke is a reserve guard that usually only comes in during late game situations when the decision is already in hand. I would expect her to play the same roll although with her ability to shoot from long range could lead to more minutes for her this year.
#11 Ariadna Pujol – 6’1″ – Sophomore – Guard/Forward – Mataro, Spain (GEM)
Pujol made it on the All AAC Rookie team last year. She started 10 games while appearing in 34 games overall. Pujol averaged 5.2 PPG (64 for 176 shooting, 16 for 62 from 3-point range for a total of 178 points). She also added 65 rebounds (1.9 RPG), 39 assists, 2 blocks, and 17 steals as well. Pujol showed a ton of talent throughout the year, shooting from long range and attacking the basket. Pujol has the same size and ability to shoot from Inga Orekhova did last year and now she has the chance to get the playing time that Orekhova had. I expect Pujol to become an every game starting, taking over at either 2 or the 3 spot and becoming a long range threat. She has the skills and now the door is wide open for her to become a big time player for the Bulls.
#23 Shalethia Stringfield – 5’8″ – Junior – Guard – Jacksonville, FL (Pothers House Christian Academy)
Stringfield started 11 games last year while appearing in all 36 games. She began the year as the starting point guard but struggled with turnovers and shooting in the early parts of the year, opening the door for Laura Marcos Canedo to take the starting job. Yet, despite being moved to the bench for a stretch, Stringfield was still a great asset to the team. She averaged 5 PPG (179 total points on the year), 2.7 RPG (98 total), 123 assists/73 turnovers, 6 blocks, and added 17 steals. Stringfield got a lot better coming off the bench for the Bulls and seemed to have a lot more confidence. However, she tore her ACL again at the end of the year and had surgery. It is not clear if she is ready to go for the year but if she is, she will be a key figure in the backcourt.
#3 Tamara Taylor – 5’10” – Senior – Guard – St. pete, FL (Gulf Coast State College)
Taylor, one of the top JUCO players two years ago, started 3 games for USF and appeared in 32 overall. She averaged 6.3 PPG (201 total points, 1.3 RPG (42 overall), and added 10 assists, 2 blocks, and 10 steals last year. Taylor is an athletic guard that will probably see a lot more minutes this year. Will she take over for Inga Orekhova or help out at the small forward position if the Bulls go with a smaller starting 5? It will be interesting to see how Taylor is used this year, whether she starts or comes off the bench. No matter what, look for more points from her this year.
#1 Ivana Vuletic – 6’3″ – Senior – Center – Norrkoping, Sweden (Hagagymnasiet) (Northeast Community College)
Vuletic appeared in 17 games last year, scoring 11 total points, adding 12 rebounds and 1 block coming off of the bench. Vuletic will be battling for a starting job this year for the starting center spot (now with Akila McDonald gone). Can she beat out Katelyn Weber for the starting gig? It will be interesting to watch. No matter what, Vuletic will see more minutes this year as the Bulls need more depth and rotation at the center position.
#45 Katelyn Weber – 6’5″ – Sophomore – Center – Little Rock, AR (Hall HS)
Weber started in 3 games and played in 35. She scored 82 total points and averaged 2.3 RPG (80 total) while adding 24 blocks and 5 steals. Weber showed some flashes in the paint but she needs a lot of work to refine her offensive game and her footwork. She had 73 personal fouls during the year and 22 turnovers (6 assists). The talent is there but she needs work. Will she be the starting center? It’s very possible. With her height and improvement on footwork, she can be a great presence in the paint on defense. The question is, what can she bring on offense for the Bulls? If she can bring just a little more on offense, she will be a key player moving into the year.
#10 Courtney Williams – 5’8″ – Junior – Guard – Folkston, GA (Charrlton County HS)
Last name on the roster and the heart and soul of the team. Williams, a first team AAC selection last year and NCAA honorable mention, returns as one of best pure scorers in program history after becoming just the third player in program history to scored over 550 points in a single season. What a year it was for Williams in 2013. Williams started 27 games last year (played in all 36 games and was 245 out of 560, scoring 586 points and averaged 16.3 PPG last year (led the team). She also averaged 7.5 RPG, totaling 269 on the year. Williams also added 88 assists, 19 blocks, and 36 steals, doing it all for the Bulls. Williams enters the year with 831 total points, just 169 away from 1000 career points. Just a reminder, she is only a junior. Williams is a big time scorer, shooting well from mid-range but doing most of her damage when she attacks the basket. She is fearless, flying in for rebounds and will take over games when needed. With Inga Orekhova gone and younger players and untested players surrounding her, she is the heart of the scoring threat for the Bulls. I expect a huge year for Williams and for her to be an all AAC member and pushing for NCAA honors if she stays healthy throughout the year.
Season projection: This is going to be a tough season for the Bulls, but there is a lot of opportunity as well. The non-conference slate is a tough one for the Bulls, a move to bolster their RPI after being skipped over for the NCAA tournament last year. However, with a team with question marks at center, point guard, and small forward, the Bulls will have to learn and adjust fast. This team is loaded with young talent led by veteran Courtney Williams, but can the young players support her? If they can, the Bulls should be able to get through the non-conference portion with a winning record. The AAC still has Uconn at the top, but after that, its a wide open race for the top spot. USF has a chance to finish second in the league and will be favored in most of their games. Can they handle the expectations? With Coach Fernandez and his staff, I think they will be prepared for each game and have the talent to battle everyone no matter what night it is. I think the Bulls will be towards 20 wins again and battling for an NCAA tournament spot (NIT if things go bad). Get ready for another solid year for the Bulls.