By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
FIU women’s basketball Head Coach Cindy Russo’s 34th year at the helm of the program has had its fair share of ups and downs.
She became one of only a handful of coaches to reach 700 career wins while watching star senior point guard Jerica Coley break a multitude of program records and become FIU women’s basketball’s all-time leading scorer.
For Russo, however, personal milestones aren’t enough.
“It was nice to have reached that milestone after a lot of long years, but I’d rather have won more games this year to be honest with you,” she said.
But there is still a chance for the Panthers (12-17) to win when it counts most.
After a difficult stretch to close out the regular season, losing seven of their last eight games, the Panthers are hoping to catch fire at the right time as they prepare to take part in their first Conference USA tournament, hosted by UTEP in El Paso, TX.
The Panthers – entering the conference tournament as the No. 12 seed – will take on No. 13 Rice on March 11 at 3:30 p.m. EST. Coley, who is currently a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award, needs just eight points to join the illustrious 3,000-point club for her career.
According to Russo, the team’s struggles have not been in vain. “We’re going through the growing pains, but we have grown up as a team,” Russo said. “As the season goes on, players get tired and what gets them through is experience and maturity and we had little of either.”
The season has served as a huge test for a young team going through the rigors and challenges of competing in a new conference. With Coley serving as the lone senior starter on the team, a mix of juniors and sophomores with limited starting experience had to learn on the fly.
With a more tenuous travel schedule and conference foes located farther than the Sun Belt Conference, the Panthers have had a difficult time getting lucky bounces in critical situations.
“Back then you could play a bad game and still win, but in Conference USA you can play a good game and still lose. We’re due for a break, we’ve had none,” Russo said. “It’s been tough, but we’re still playing hard and playing some good basketball but it’s a lot to handle.”
With the Panthers about to begin tournament play in El Paso, Russo would like nothing more than seeing things go the team’s way in the Lone Star State.
“We could use a break now,” Russo said.