Andrea & Andrell Smith Lead Bulls Toward Tourney

Andrea & Andrell Smith Lead Bulls Toward Tourney | by Matthew Manuri | |

| by Matthew Manuri | |

Andrea & Andrell Smith Lead Bulls Toward Tourney | by Matthew Manuri | |

Andrea & Andrell Smith Lead Bulls Toward Tourney

“Physiology played its part in Andrea and Andrell Smith having an opportunity to play together this season.

After they played their part in a week that could define South Florida’s season — wins against No. 12 Louisville and No. 21 Syracuse — the twin sisters are taking matters into their own hands to make sure this lasts as long as possible.

As President’s Day arrived with its invitation to celebrate great leaders by buying stuff you don’t need for slightly less money than you would otherwise pay for stuff you don’t need, South Florida found itself in familiar February territory. The Bulls were in the middle of the Big East table and struggling to stay afloat in postseason waters at No. 77 in the RPI.

South Florida coach Jose Fernandez has done considerably more winning in Tampa than those who preceded him, but he also has more experience than he would like with NCAA tournament bubbles bursting. The program hasn’t appeared in that field since 2006, instead becoming WNIT regulars (winning it in 2009). So he knew what to make of an overtime loss against Notre Dame, a loss in the final seconds against Villanova and a three-point setback against Louisville — all results incurred in the month of January that left his team 6-5 in the Big East, with three of its final five games against ranked teams, and the other two on the road.

“The NCAA committee could care less about your close losses,” Fernandez said.

It does care about quality wins, and South Florida got one of the premium variety when it beat Louisville, 73-62, on Wednesday behind 35 points on 11-of-16 shooting from Andrea Smith. It was Louisville’s second loss at home and the first time it allowed more than 60 points on its court. Andrea had big scoring nights earlier this season against Notre Dame and DePaul, but those came in games in which she shot the ball more than 30 times.

“She’s the type of kid that wants the ball in her hands,” Fernandez said. “Outside of the Louisville game, where she let the game come to her and she took good shots and she didn’t force shots, in some of those other games that she had high numbers, her shooting percentage wasn’t very good. I think it was more of her pressing and her attacking and taking contested shots. It was more high volume to get to 30.

“Against Louisville, it was high percentage and low volume.”

Andrea was the top scorer a second time in Saturday’s 68-66 win against Syracuse with 18 points, but she had help from Andrell, who finished with 16 points, six assists and six rebounds. Together, the twins hit 8-of-17 shots from the 3-point line against the Orange. Barring an epic upset against Connecticut, South Florida can guarantee a winning conference record with a win at Rutgers or Georgetown.

Both Andrea and Andrell signed with South Florida out of high school but ultimately attended Gulf Coast Community College for two years. Andrell suffered a torn ACL in her left knee early in her first season at Gulf Coast and retained four years of eligibility. That should have meant that after living and playing with Andrea for 22 years, she was on her own this season. But 58 seconds into a Big East tournament game against Pittsburgh at the end of the 2010-11 season, in what proved to be South Florida’s final game of that campaign, Andrea went down with an injury.

It turned out to be an ACL tear in her left knee, same as her sister. She redshirted the following season, steered through rehab by Andrell.

The two are distinctly different players. Though a point guard in part because of an injury that sidelined Shalethia Stringfield for the season, Andrell is the distributor and defender. Andrea, as her performance against Louisville suggests, is the pure scorer. Andrell, too, is the one with the temper, the one Fernandez had to work to coach early in her time at South Florida. Where they are identical in ways beyond appearance, separated mostly by a small mole on Andrea’s right cheek, is in their approach to basketball. Fernandez suggested it is a common sight to see them running multiple miles on the treadmill a few hours before games. If your leading scorers do that, others follow.

“We don’t have one McDonald’s All-American on our team,” Fernandez said. “For us to be successful, we’ve got to be well prepared. We run good stuff. But outside of the 20 hours [of practice] a week, if the only work you’re putting in is when I make you put in work those 20 hours a week, we’re not good enough. They have relentless work ethics.”

Unlike college, they won’t be able to choose to stay together with what comes next, whether in the WNBA for one or both, or in European leagues.

So they might as well make the season they have last as long as possible.”

by Graham Hays,