Bulls working to improve on free throws
Great moment from the end of men's basketball practice Monday. After a two-hour workout, five players line up for free throws, and if the team doesn't go 8-for-10, they have to run another set of sprints down the court and back. I lost count how many times they failed to hit eight -- I'm thinking two, but might have been three -- but they're about to take off for another set of sprints, and Chris Howard stops and asks coach Stan Heath if the guys can go double-or-nothing on another 10 shots.
Heath agrees and lets Howard pick four teammates, and he picks Aaron Holmes, Mo Esseghir and free-throw studs Solomon Bozeman and Jesus Verdejo. Again, the Bulls are at 66.7 percent as a team, so 8-for-10 is a good showing right now. You get two misses between five guys, so it's a good end-of-game pressure simulation, because you're tired and there are ramifications. Howard (74.5 percent this season) nails them both, then Holmes (who makes his season debut Wednesday) hits both his. Esseghir, who's only 4-for-6 at the line all season, misses his first, then makes his second, so Solo and 'Zeus need only make 3-of-4. Bozeman, the team's best at 88.2 percent, swishes both, leaving Verdejo (83.3 percent), who clinches it when his first shot bounces around and in. He hit the second, making it 9-for-10 and a positive spin to what had been a frustrating end of practice.
Free throws have been a huge part of USF's seven-game win streak. Not so much hitting them, but just getting to the line -- in the last six wins, they've had at least 11 more free throw attempts than their opponents, including a 40-14 edge at the line against UAB. The difference in fouls was just 23-18, so the Bulls are doing a much better job of getting the ball inside and penetrating to draw fouls on shots and get to the line. The next step is hitting them more than two times out of three.
-- From football practice Monday night: Coaches are being careful to hold right tackle Walt Walker out of practice as his knee is sore. Senior Jared Carnes took all the reps at right tackle, and Walker didn't run with the team in post-practice conditioning runs, but coach Jim Leavitt said Walker would be fine and holding him out two weeks before the bowl game wasn't anything telling. ... And redshirting freshman defensive tackle David Fonua won't be practicing until spring with an injured left knee. ... And for you roster-number junkies, new defensive tackle Jason Fox is wearing jersey No. 16.
-- More football: Linebacker depth will become more important, what with Tyrone McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier being seniors next fall. Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said Monday that one young player who's impressed him in recent weeks is redshirt freshman Sabbath Joseph, who's the top backup to McKenzie at strongside right now. Looks like Mompremier will shift to Ben Moffitt's spot in the middle for 2008, with Donte Spires and midyear transfer Kion Wilson battling for the weakside job. Burnham said he likes what he's seen from true freshman Tyson Butler, the talented running back now working at cornerback.
-- Nationalchamps.net -- I had the odd privilege of freelancing a Vanderbilt season preview for them years back -- has its early-bird 2008 preseason football poll out, with USF ranked No. 19. West Virginia, ranked 11th, is their Big East favorite, and Connecticut (21st) is the only other league team ranked. George Selvie is their No. 2 defensive lineman, behind Ohio State's Vernon Gholston. Matt Grothe isn't among the top 15 quarterbacks in the country, but Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith is. And somehow, Mike Jenkins will be the No. 8 cornerback in the nation, even though he's a senior this season. (I suppose Trae Williams should feel snubbed).
-- Lots of cool exclusive free stuff on USF's official site, gousfbulls.com, which has fun video of point guard Chris Howard getting a design shaved into the side of his head. Kicker Delbert Alvarado might be the only USF athlete who's more inventive with his hair than Howard. My head doesn't facilitate such artistic work. The site also has freshman guard Gianna Messina blogging from the women's basketball team's trip to Cancun, Mexico, for a two-game tournament this week. Fun stuff, from massages for the players to "a Michael Jackson impersonator, who was very good."