The Tulane women’s basketball team played an early schedule with challenging opponents, hoping it helps provide a résumé for NCAA tournament consideration.
Now in American Athletic Conference play, the Green Wave (12-4, 3-1) will play its most noteworthy opponent thus far this season, 19th-ranked South Florida (10-4, 3-1), on Wednesday night at Devlin Fieldhouse.
“It’s a big opportunity for us,” said Tulane sophomore guard Kolby Morgan. “It can help us in the long run, like last year” in getting an NCAA berth.
A win would give Tulane a 10-0 home record for the first time since the 2002-03 season. Tulane’s last win against an opponent ranked in the Top 25 was on Nov. 11, 2011, against LSU.
South Florida boasts the conference’s leading scorer in senior guard Courtney Williams (21.6 points per game), as well as its top rebounder in forward Alisia Jenkins (13.3).
Coach Lisa Stockton has Tulane poised for a team effort to slow Williams, who takes 21 shots per game. Williams will be matched against Morgan, the conference’s fourth-leading scorer (16.6) and a good defender.
“She’s really aggressive, and her jump shot is nice,” said Morgan, who was cited by the conference on its honor roll Monday after scoring 20 points and 19 points in Tulane’s past two games. “You want to make her take tough shots, and you have to get back on defense and protect the rim.”
Jenkins, however, has missed the past two games, including Sunday’s home loss to UConn, after her left ankle was severely sprained Jan. 5 against Central Florida. Her status is day-to-day.
Morgan shook her head.
“Our (outlook) is on her playing, so that’s what we’re focused on” she said.
A win would be big, even at this juncture of the 18-game AAC schedule. South Florida is considered the second-best team in the conference behind perennial power Connecticut, ranked No. 1. For the most part, the thinking is that the conference’s other teams are competing for third place. And last season, the Bulls beat the Wave three times, including in the conference tournament.
Morgan said the Green Wave can win this time because of the emergence of its bench, singling out freshman Taylor Emery, who is from Tampa — where USF is located — and forward Meredith Schulte, who on Monday was chosen AAC Freshman of the Week.
However, the Bulls have a strong bench, also led by a freshman, Kitija Laska, the AAC’s Player of the Week after averaging 25.3 points with Jenkins out.