Make it seven: Bulls beat UAB 68-58
Here's a first look at the game story that will run in Sunday's Times. More to come later tonight ...
TAMPA -- Seeing football coach Jim Leavitt at midcourt painted in green and gold took the Sun Dome crowd to another level, but it was guard Dominique Jones and center Kentrell Gransberry that lifted the Bulls to their seventh win in a row, a 68-58 victory against UAB on Saturday night.
"That's a very, very good win for us. I thought we defended the best we've defended all year long," coach Stan Heath said. "It couldn't have come at a better time, against a very talented, very good basketball team."
The seven straight wins matches USF's longest win streak in 25 years, going back to a nine-game streak during the 1982-83 season, and the victory ends an eight-game losing skid to the Blazers, going back to 2002.
Jones, a freshman who had scored 30 points in each of his last two games, finished with 25, and Gransberry dominated the post with 18 points, 15 rebounds and a career-best seven blocks. His previous high had been two rejections.
"He showed a presence early in the game, just blocking some shots, being a little bit of an intimidator in there with his defense," said Heath, whose team held UAB to 36.2 percent shooting, the lowest by a USF opponent this season.
Leavitt had promised to "paint up" with the USF student section as part of a "Finish Strong" promotion, and he took the court during a time out early in the second half, wearing bull horns on his head with his face, shirt and arms painted green and gold. Heath said he was too involved in the game to notice, but the players said they appreciated the crowd's support.
"I was wondering who walked into the gym, because the crowd just got ecstatic," Gransberry said of the announced crowd of 4,056, highest in four home games this season. "We feed off that, and sometimes we didn't have that last year, that extra 12th man."
UAB (7-4) led 49-47 with 10 minutes to play when Jones led USF (7-3) on a 10-0 run, scoring six points. The Blazers, who hit eight 3-pointers and were led by Robert Vaden's 19 points, wouldn't get closer than five points the rest of the way.
The final margin shorted the Bulls a point, as the official scorebook incorrectly noted a Jesus Verdejo made free throw in the second half as being missed. USF was in contact with Big East officials to have the missing point restored, but a final score cannot be changed once officials leave the court.
USF has nine days off before traveling to face Wake Forest on Dec. 19.
(Pictured: Jim Leavitt. Times photo - Ross Mantle. Click to enlarge.)