Hoops notebook: Antigua seeking complete game
While disillusioned Bulls fans grope for any sliver of optimism in a season trending southward, Coach Orlando Antigua says he has uncovered plenty of them.
He found them in the opening half against Troy, early in the second half at South Carolina, even down the stretch against George Washington. All were extended periods of solid play the Bulls couldn't sustain, resulting in losses each time.
Now, no one this side of a Tropicana Field turnstile is more desperate for a complete game than Antigua. Once they come, the second-year coach suggested fortunes will change for his beleaguered club (2-7), saddled with a bleak RPI (229) entering Sunday's home contest against N.C. State.
"This schedule has not been for the faint of heart early on, and we've demonstrated that in each of those games -- a half, 20 minutes, 30 minutes -- that we can compete," Antigua said Thursday.
"We just have to do it for 40 minutes, and I think that comes with growth, maturity, confidence and being disciplined both offensively and defensively."
A little proficiency might help also.
The Bulls' futility from 3-point range -- their percentage (23.2) is last in all of Division I -- has been well chronicled. Antigua insists his team has been practicing "an awful lot" on improving in that area, while reiterating the Bulls' strength lies in the low post. But even there, significant progress is needed.
USF is tied for 156th nationally with 183 free-throw attempts (20.3 per game), a modest figure for a team designed to work the ball inside and draw contact. Collectively, the Bulls' three most prominent post players -- Chris Perry, Jaleel Cousins and Ruben Guerrero -- are shooting less than 60 percent (47-for-79) from the stripe.
HONORING THEIR HERITAGE: USF, the only Division I school in America with Hispanic men's and women's basketball head coaches, celebrates that heritage during Sunday's doubleheader beginning with the women's noon game against Chattanooga.
Both teams will wear "Los Toros" (Spanish for "The Bulls") uniforms, similar to the ones worn during the programs' competitive tour of Spain this past summer. The gesture has been embraced by both Antigua (born in the Dominican Republic) and women's coach Jose Fernandez (whose parents were born in Cuba).
"I think it's a great opportunity for our program, our kids, our university, just to celebrate our Latino and Hispanic heritage in a way that will try to unify the Latino community," Antigua said.
FINDING THE MARK: The prevailing notion around the No. 21 women's team (5-2) has been that its offense would reach another stratosphere once 6-foot freshman sharpshooter Kitija Laksa found a groove.
Case in point: Sunday's 101-79 rout of Penn State. The heralded Latvian native, only 9-for-35 from long range (25.7 percent) in her first six college games, went 3-for-7 en route to a career-high 18 points. The performance elicited memories of her dead-eye effort during the Bulls' tour of Spain, when Laksa sank eight of 13 3-pointers in three contests.
"The ball went in the basket (Sunday), and that's the thing with good shooters; they forget about the last shot and just worry about the next one," Fernandez said.
"And I think even myself has put a little bit too much pressure on her (after) how well she played in Spain. I think she really enjoyed (it). You could see there was a smile on her face. It was almost like there was a weight lifted off her shoulders."
ODDS AND ENDS: USF's men seek the program's 600th victory Sunday. The Bulls' alltime record stands at 599-692. ... USF's perimeter defense gets a daunting test Sunday against N.C. State junior G Cat Barber, who ranks 15th nationally by drawing 8.5 fouls per game. Barber's 89 free-throw attempts rank third in the country. ... Something has to give at the 3-point line Sunday; while USF ranks last in 3-point efficiency, the Wolfpack are 277th in 3-point defense (37.3 percent).