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USF womens aiming for new heights

December 3, 2014
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They have spent the season’s initial two weeks traversing areas both pastoral (southern Tennessee) and tropical (U.S. Virgin Islands) in a quest to bolster each other’s respective resumes.

So far, both are gleaming, and growing. At the dawn of December, the Bulls women’s basketball team and junior two-guard Courtney Williams are stacking up credentials that would impress NCAA Tournament committee members and All-American voters alike.

The Bulls (5-2), denied a spot in last season’s NCAA field for lack of a quality non-conference win, own two victories against 2014 tourney qualifiers. Despite nagging injuries, they won two of three at last weekend’s Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, where each of their games tipped off well after 9 p.m. EST.

Entering tonight’s home game against Stetson, they’re on the cusp (17 votes received) of making the Associated Press top 25 for the first time. They likely would crack the next poll with a win against the Hatters and a Sunday home triumph against St. John’s, another 2014 NCAA qualifier.

“The reason you take these trips, especially during the year, is for your kids to enjoy one another and learn a lot about your team through adversity,” said coach Jose Fernandez, whose club topped Oklahoma and Illinois before Saturday’s 61-57 loss to No. 13 Kentucky. “You’re away from home for a while and kids get to spend time with one another away from basketball … which was big.”

Williams continues flourishing despite game plans geared toward shutting her down. Recently named to the Wooden Award’s preseason watch list, she leads USF in scoring (19.7 points per game), free-throw percentage (18-for-21), assists (19) and steals (eight), and is second in rebounding (7.7 rpg).

At the Paradise Jam, she averaged 22.7 points and 7.3 boards, earning American Athletic Conference player of the week honors. If she can remain healthy, the 5-foot-8 Folkston, Ga., product could become the first Bull to earn All-America status above honorable mention.

A little bracketology could be the byproduct. Or vice versa.

“I think our team has to do well for her to have that opportunity,” Fernandez said. “Sometimes you don’t get those individual accomplishments without the team being successful.”

Attendance down: Actual attendance for the football team’s season finale Friday against UCF at Raymond James Stadium was 27,368, according to the Tampa Sports Authority.

Now for the bleak news: Only three times in seven home games this year did actual attendance eclipse 20,000. The average — 19,317 — was USF’s worst since 2001 and represented a decrease of more than 1,000 fans a game from ’13 (20,379).

Fairs a first-teamer: Junior volleyball standout Erin Fairs, last season’s AAC player of the year, earned first-team all-conference honors after leading the Bulls (14-18) in kills in all but four matches this season. She had 24 double doubles in 32 matches, becoming the eighth Bull with 1,000 kills and digs in a career.

Odds and ends: The All-AAC football team and its individual honorees (coach and players of the year) will be announced Dec. 10. P Mattias Ciabatti (44.4 yards per attempt) and freshman TB Marlon Mack (league-best 1,041 rushing yards) appear first-team locks, with Mack an apparent front-runner for AAC rookie of the year. … Now that UAB has dissolved its football program, dozens of Blazers players will look elsewhere — including Tampa, perhaps — to play. No one on UAB’s roster, however, hails from the bay area.

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