Hoops notes: Fitzpatrick stepping up, hoping for a huge upset Saturday
The Bulls were a bit tired today, having arrived at home around 5 a.m. this morning from their road game against Providence and flight home.
They were just glad to get home, considering the storms hitting the Northeast.
But as USF opens a stretch of three consecutive games at home, it has a huge challenge (and opportunity) Saturday in a showdown against No. 17 Syracuse at the St. Pete Times Forum. Coach Stan Heath said he expects a bigger crowd, and some excitement in the downtown arena, and hope it gives them a spark.
The Orangemen snapped a four-game losing streak with a huge road victory over UConn Wednesday night, but will be a tough task. The Bulls have lost some close games this year, including a five-point loss to Providence Tuesday, Heath believes an upset could go a long way.
"A team like Syracuse that has that kind of tradition and they're ranked nationally, an upset like that does a lot for a young team, really boosts their confidence and hopefully inspires them to know they can do some things at a different level," Heath said.
The Bulls (8-15, 2-8 Big East) have been sparked by sophomore G Jawanza Poland, who is coming off a career-high 20 points against the Friars. Poland, a junior college transfer who sat out last season, has played beyond expectations, and put together several highlight-reel dunks and plays, with Heath saying he has a chance to be a premier player in the league down the road.
Another key cog has been Tampa native, sophomore forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrck. The former King High star has picked up his game as of late, getting used to a role coming off the bench. Fitzpatrick was thrown into the fire a lot last season due to the lack of depth in the Bulls frontcourt, playing a lot of minutes, which was an eye opening experience (and one he said he'll "never forget'). But it also spoiled him, and when his role was more limited this year, he felt he could do more, and lately, he has. Heath said this might be the best basketball Fitzpatrick has played.
"I think he's playing terrific," Heath said. "Probably lately, the last two games, he might be the most consistent guy I've had out there on the court. I thoght he played well (Wednesday). You could tell, he's a hometown kid, he wants to do well. He wants this program to win. I really have been pleased with his growth and what he does out there on the court. He went from (me) trying to figure out how to play those three guys and he was the guy who suffered, but now it's like, 'I have to have him out there on the court."
-- JOE SMITH