By Leo Haggerty


First of all, we have to apologize to Coach Gregory and his men’s squad as well as Coach Fernandez and his women’s charges.  With the Bucs in the midst of a serious playoff run to capture back-to-back Lombardi Trophies and the Lightning leading the Eastern Division in their quest for a three-peat along with the Outback Bowl, we have been negligent in our coverage of the Bulls early season non-conference schedule.  Just not enough of us to go around.

Well, now that the South Florida hoopsters are into their conference contests, we will be a fixture at home games and hop on the Zoom post games for away tilts.  Not just our correspondents but our photo journalists as well.  Hey, a picture says a 1000 words, right?

So, look for our USF RECAP on Saturdays unless there’s a Buccaneers playoff game in January.  If that occurs, we’ll call one of our famous audibles and move it to another day.

With all that being said, had a chance to catch up with Head Women’s Basketball Coach Jose Fernandez and G Maria Alvarez.  Below are their answers to my numerous queries. Enjoy.

LH : I know it’s a small sample size but what’s the biggest difference between this years team and last years team?

JF : I don’t know, they’re older.  (laughter)  Virtually, it’s the same team.  Now, i’s different.  We’ve always been the hunter chasing UCONN.  So, you have the success that we had last year, now when you look at our schedule, we’re everybody’s big game.  People are chasing us. You look at our league.  UCF is a tournament team and you have Houston the way they scheduled.  You have Temple and Tulane and SMU just beat Texas A&M the other day.  From top to bottom, look at the year Tulsa is having and Memphis.  You know, it’s great to see but we know we’re going to get everybody’s best punch so, I think, it’s a different type of mentality. So, you know, we just have to play good team defense and rebound and take care of it and not play outside of who we are.  I think, in November and December, we did a great job of scheduling again.  We got some very good opportunities against some very good teams and it worked out well for us.

 LH : If you’re hitting from behind the arc, you can beat anyone in the country.  If that shot isn’t dropping, what’s Plan B?

JF : The one constant that you have to have, whether you’re making shots or not, is you have to defend and rebound.  You know, I think, we shoot the ball better from two.  I think we’re shooting the ball as well from the free throw line as from the three but, again, the sample size of our schedule is a lot different.  A lot of those statistics are a little skewed because of the schedule that we play.

LH : Last year, the entire tournament was in one location.  Are you looking forward to going back to playing at different sites this year? 

JF : You know, I didn’t mind it being in one city.  I minded be sequestered in a hotel room and having food brought to me and I couldn’t do anything, you know.  I couldn’t sneak anybody into my hotel room like I heard other folks did.  (laughter)  Shoot, my wife had to stay in a different hotel.  Hey, Derek will tell you.  We had one floor and, to get off the floor, we had to all leave together.  We had to all come to the floor together and we got food.  I got a knock on the door and, when I opened the door, I got food delivered from me.  Yeah, I was a prisoner. (laughter)  Hey, they were all neutral site games.  Now, you’re not going back to neutral site games.  If you’re a one through a four seed, you’re going to host in your own venue so it’s going to be a little different.  I think that’s why you saw so many good games.  So many upsets and so much parity last year in the NCAA tournament.  I’d like it all to be at neutral sites.

LH : When you’re playing another school, and it’s the end of the game, you pretty much know who is getting the ball.  How nice is it, when you’re setting up a last second play, you have Options A & B & C & D?

JF : Yeah, it’s pretty good.  It all depends on match ups and how the flow is going.  When you get to the end of the game, you can run something and Sidni Harvey can hit a three.  Or, you can put it in Shaeniki’s hands and she can get to the rim.  Or you can throw it inside to Dulcy.  Or you can isolate Mununga.  You also have a point guard that I know is going to make good decisions and get the ball to where it needs to go.  We’re very fortunate.  I think we’ve done a very good job recruiting and done a really good job developing our kids.  That has to continue if we want to continue to be one of the best programs in the country.

LH : Can you be a great team without a great point guard? 

JF : i think you can disguise it.  If you got two or three guys that can handle the ball.  You might play a different style, you know, offensively.  You can smoke-and-mirror it a little bit but, at the end of the day, it’ll catch up to you.  On the men’s side and the women’s side, it’s different with the shot clock and athleticism and the speed of the game.  The game’s officiated differently on our side than on that side.  It all depends on who you’re playing.  Is the team going to full court press or trap or deny or force other guys to handle the basketball once it goes over half court?  They might play some junk defense or a half court trap.  So, to answer the question, I don’t think you can be great without a true leader that’s an extension of the head coach on the floor to make great decisions.

LH : Any specific rule changes that have affected the team this year?

 JF : No, none, but the three point line got moved back but our international guys shoot it from there anyway when they go back to Europe.  It hasn’t really affected us.

LH : Coach Fernandez talked about the change in mentality.  You are no longer chasing Connecticut but teams are chasing you.  In the past, you’ve been the hunters.  Now, you’re the hunted. What’s that like?

MA : Yeah, you know Coach says that all the time.  The more game that you win the more competition you have.  Our preseason schedule was like that.  Every time we win a big game you’re putting a big target on your back.  It’s nice to know that you’re being noticed like that.

LH : What’s the biggest difference between this years team and last years team?

MA : The biggest difference, I think, is that we’re hungrier.  Our two seniors, Shea and Betty, they were our leaders last year.  I think we just hungry to go back-to-back and move forward to the NCAA tournament.

LH : One game at a time, right? 

MA : Absolutely, step by step.