Bulls finding their groove, not their touch
The coaches can see it. The players believe it. The last two games reveal it.
In just about every key area, USF has begun clicking.
Yet from the outside, they're still clanging.
Entering the second half -- or "back nine" -- of the American Athletic Conference season, the Bulls (11-11, 2-7) remain the nation's second-worst 3-point shooting team (25.5 percent). As a result, a fan base is left to wonder:
Had two or three more treys fallen Sunday at Cincinnati, just how much mojo would this team be taking to Orlando for Wednesday night's tussle at UCF?
Consider: In Sunday's 50-45 loss, USF held the nation's No. 7 team to its lowest scoring output in league play (and third-lowest total of the season), performed effectively against Cincy's man defense in the second half, and finished with a 22-21 defensive rebounding edge.
But the Bulls sank one of 11 3-point tries, missing all five of its attempts in the last five minutes.
"I think that's one of those games that we positioned ourselves extremely well to steal that game," Coach Stan Heath said Monday.
"I do think we could've pulled the game off. I think just down the stretch if we had been a little bit better against the zone, come up with some of those loose balls, it's our game."
Hence the reason zone offense was the emphasis du jour when the Bulls returned to the Muma Center for practice 13 hours after landing back in Tampa late Sunday.
Until his shooters give defenses a reason to respect them, Heath expects to see a litany of collapsed zones designed to suffocate and fluster his big men.
UCF, which typically starts four guards, will be no exception. Heath said attacking such looks will require creativity and outside-the-box thinking.
"Because I think if we can solve that, we'll get going," he added. "The second half offensively against their man -- Cincinnati's got one of the better man defenses -- we were pretty good. It was the last six minutes in the zone that we got stagnant against."
Corey Allen Jr., for one, doesn't see the stagnation stretching deep into February. The junior guard calls the anemic shooting a "confidence thing" easily resolved by one -- just one -- consistent night.
"Yeah, they fall in practice," said Allen Jr., the team's top 3-point shooter (32 percent). "We have a lot of people shooting good in practice, but it just doesn't carry over to the games, which is something that can easily be fixed."