As FIU women’s basketball’s present transition season nears its end and a future injection of talent awaits, the school will honor the two women most responsible for building the program’s past on Saturday.
Halftime of the noon game against Rice at FIU Arena will be devoted to honoring Cindy Russo, head coach for 36 seasons at FIU, and Inge Nissen, assistant coach for three seasons and associate coach for 23. After battling the flu and enduring the loss of her mother, Russo retired in midseason during the 2014-15 campaign. Nissen handled the bench for the rest of the season.
FIU enjoyed six 20-win seasons in Russo’s first 10. After Russo was joined in 1989 by her fellow Old Dominion alumnus, a Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame player, there were 12 more 20-win seasons, six NCAA Tournament appearances and seven Women’s NIT berths.
Russo’s voice flowed with happiness on Friday. A postgame reception will include, she estimates, 50 to 80 former players. Her Facebook timeline included a team photo of the 1981-82 Panthers, the team that contained her first recruiting class and wound up going 27-10.
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“The thing I’m most excited about are the alumni and family able to be there,” Russo said. “Sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles … anybody still alive.”
But she’s also enjoying her first season since 1976-77 that she hasn’t been in charge of a college basketball program.
“I’m just loving it,” Russo said. “It’s just a different life. You’re in the rat race long enough, it’s good to get off. It’s nice to stay home in Miami during the winter. We were always traveling.”
Asked to name a top five among her 667 wins at FIU, Russo narrowed the list to winning at Wake Forest 82-78 in 1995; beating Tulane 69-55 in the 2014 Conference USA tournament; beating Old Dominion 81-76 in the 1995 NCAA Tournament; a win over Marquette in the 1998 NCAA tourney; and any of the nine times FIU beat Miami in Coral Gables.
Saturday: FIU men at Rice
When, where: 2 p.m.; Tudor Fieldhouse, Houston.
TV, radio: None.
Records: FIU 12-15 (6-8 Conference USA); Rice 10-16 (5-8).
Scouting report: FIU was outscored 9-1 over the last 1:52 in its 77-75 loss at North Texas on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Rice beat Florida Atlantic 90-85 at home on Thursday. … Conference USA’s Texas Owls have one of the league’s best freshmen in 6-2 guard Marcus Evans, who is averaging 20.1 points per game.
Rice at FIU women
When, where: Noon; FIU Arena.
TV, radio: FSFL; no radio.
Records: Rice 6-18 (5-8 Conference USA); FIU 4-21 (2-12).
Scouting report: The best battle of the afternoon might be inside with Rice’s 6-1 Jasmine Goodwine, who leads the team in scoring and blocks, going against FIU’s Brianna Wright and Janka Hegedus.