Surprising Saaka helps Bulls to 86-66 win
TAMPA -- Amu Saaka had barely been a factor in USF's first 11 games, totaling 15 points in sparse minutes off the bench.
Given his first start of the season Saturday against St. Francis (N.Y.), the 6-foot-6 sophomore forward made the most of the opportunity, going 5-for-6 from the field for a career-high 13 points in an easy 86-66 Bulls win before a crowd of 2,955 at the Sun Dome.
"I feel great. It all boils down to playing and winning," said Saaka, who averaged 17 minutes a game last season but was getting 4.8 per game before Saturday. "You play better when you play aggressively. Coach (Stan Heath) says if you're open, take the shot. You love to play for a coach like that."
USF (8-4) could have won by more, leading by 34 points with 11 minutes to play, but St. Francis (3-9) got a late 16-2 run against the Bulls reserves. Heath was pleased with his team's shooting and especially with Saaka.
"I thought Amu Saaka was the key to the game today," said Heath, adding that he'll start Saaka again in USF's next game, Dec. 29 against Winston-Salem State. "It was good to see him play that way."
Saaka, who had zero turnovers in 23 minutes, got the nod after freshman Orane Chin had gone 0-for-13 in the previous two games. Saaka wasn't even the hottest shooter of the night -- point guard Chris Howard had 12 points in the first seven minutes and finished with 17 on 7-for-8 shooting. The Bulls hit a season-high 58.9 percent of their shots despite a late drought that saw them go four minutes without scoring.
"I was nervous in warmups because I was making every shot," said Howard, who had five assists and finished one point off his career high.
Hitting nine 3-pointers made it trivial that center Kentrell Gransberry, facing consistent double-teams inside, took only two shots and finished with a season-low six points. He did have 14 rebounds and a career-high five assists.
The lopsided score allowed USF to play its bench, and redshirt freshman Aaron Holmes, playing in his second game after becoming eligible this week, had 13 points in 17 minutes. He'd scored two in his debut in a loss at Wake Forest on Wednesday.
St. Francis hit its first five 3-point attempts but finished 6-for-13, led by 17 points from 5-foot-8 guard Jamaal Womack.
The Bulls now return home for Christmas and have off until Wednesday night, with Winston-Salem State as the final nonconference tuneup before Big East play begins at home Jan. 2 against Rutgers.