tampabay.com

Bulls-Gators rivalry heads to bigger stage

USF will host UF Thursday in its second straight postseason.

By GREG AUMAN
Published March 14, 2005


TAMPA - The Women's NIT is all about rivalries, and this one shouldn't disappoint.

South Florida, which made its first postseason appearance in last year's NIT, hosts Florida at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Sun Dome.

"We're excited," said Bulls coach Jose Fernandez, whose team (20-10) has four more wins than any in program history. "Going to the NCAA Tournament was our goal all year long, but there are a lot of teams around the country who would like to be playing this week."

The Gators (14-14) beat USF 58-50 in January in Gainesville, rallying to a late 18-5 run after the Bulls led most of the way.

USF's hopes of making its NCAA Tournament debut were derailed by a quarterfinal loss in the Conference USA tournament to eventual champion Texas Christian. Florida ended the season with four consecutive losses, with leading scorer Bernice Mosby of Brooksville off the team since Feb.25 due to personal matters.

"I think both teams know each other well," said Fernandez, who expects his team to be at full strength, including center Nalini Miller, who missed much of the season with a hamstring injury. "This gives us an opportunity to play at home, and I think it should be a very good basketball game."

Florida has won the past 14 meetings, but the last was close enough that the coaches traded barbs after the game. Fernandez said, "I think we're a better team," and Gators coach Carolyn Peck, who was not available for comment Sunday night, countered that "every coach has a high opinion of their team ... you might have good players, but the best team is the one that wins."

The schools are not scheduled to meet after this season, though both coaches have indicated an interest in continuing the series. Now the Bulls, who have won six of seven, get one more shot at beating their instate rivals.

The Bulls played in last year's WNIT, losing 63-55 in the opening round at Richmond and finishing 14-15. The Gators made the NCAA field, beating New Mexico in the first round before falling to Baylor.

For ticket information, call 1-800-462-8557. Prices are $10 for lower level center court and $7 for other lower-level seats. Students may purchase tickets for $4, and season ticket holders may purchase courtside floor seats for $10.

The USF-UF winner will play the winner of Friday's Wake Forest-Charlotte game between March 19-21.