2022 San Diego Invitational

San Diego Invitational: Battle-Tested USF Continues Grueling Slate

San Diego Invitational: Battle-Tested USF Continues Grueling Slate

USF continues a daunting non-conference before pursuing an AAC championship, as the Bulls join the San Diego Invitational field.

Dec 19, 2022 by Kyle Kensing
San Diego Invitational: Battle-Tested USF Continues Grueling Slate

South Florida earned distinction as the American Athletic Conference's preseason favorite to win the league title. Once the Bulls begin the conference slate, they'll already have had plenty of opportunities to test their mettle. 

USF, which has played the nation's 29th-toughest schedule according to Massey ratings, continues the theme of its non-conference season when it heads west for the San Diego Invitational. 

The Bulls join a quartet of the nation's best teams — third-ranked Ohio State, Pac-12 championship contender Oregon, and undefeated breakout squad Arkansas — as perhaps the most under-the-radar of the bunch. After all, USF ended the week of Dec. 12 as the only team in the loaded San Diego Invitational field not ranked in the Top 25. 

A March Madness fixture for much of the past decade, USF certainly is no unknown in the basketball world. However, the Bulls have tackled a daunting schedule through the first month-and-change of 2022-23, facing a bevy of Top 25 opponents. 

The San Diego Individual marks USF's second multi-team event, following the Thanksgiving weekend Gulf Coast Showcase, where the Bulls dropped tough decisions to Michigan and Villanova. Between those contests and a road loss to 2022 Elite Eight team NC State, USF scored a win at popular preseason Final Four pick Texas. 

Another potential Final Four team awaits in the USF gauntlet, with third-ranked Ohio State the Bulls' first opponent in San Diego. 

"Top five for a reason" USF coach Jose Fernandez said of the Buckeyes in his postgame press conference following the Bulls' 75-50 rout of La Salle on Saturday. "They're very balanced. Offensively, they can shoot the 3[-pointer], they can create off the dribble, they've got size." 

All those ingredients combine to make for a game with March potential, played before the holidays. 

Fernandez touched on the caliber of contests he expects for his team in America's Finest City. 

"It's a great opportunity. That's a 2nd Round NCAA game, or a Sweet 16 game to get to the Elite 8. I think we've played probably two of those teams this year, both of them on the road." 

To be sure, the measuring stick is tall. USF aims to stack up with its upcoming competition, a task that starts with one of the most dynamic perimeter scoring duos in the country. 

Elena Tsineke and Sammie Puisis lead USF, both averaging north of 16 points per game. Either Bull guard can score off the dribble, and each is dangerous from 3-point range. Puisis has connected on 40 percent for 40 made 3-pointers, second-most in all of Div. I. 

Puisis takes a hot hand into San Diego, coming of a 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc against La Salle. It marked her third time knocking down five triples in the same game this season, also doing so against Alabama and Texas. 

Tsineke is shooting around 45 percent from deep. Her 3-point touch is one tool in an impressive arsenal for the capable combo guard, who also sets the table as one of USF's two most-productive pass distributors. 

With the two known commodities Puisis and Tsineke setting the foundation, Priscilla Williams may be a potential X-factor working into the USF rotation. 

Williams connected on four 3-pointers against La Salle for a career-high 12 points. Her 12 minutes against the Explorers were her most since an early-season blowout of Florida A&M. 

"The offensive side of things is catching up," Fernandez said. "Now, it's defending, defending our way, containing and jumping to the ball. If she can come off the bench and shoot the ball like that, and then rebound, get it off the glass and start our break, and then buckle up, the defense is going to catch up."