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Hoops schools leaving Big East this summer, taking name

TAMPA -- USF's stay in the Big East, which started with such promise in 2005, now looks to be ending even sooner than expected.

The conference's basketball-only members are reportedly negotiating an accelerated exit, leaving this summer and taking the Big East name with them, leaving USF in a new, as yet unnamed conference this fall.

Multiple reports, first by ESPN, had the presidents and athletic directors from the league's football schools meeting Friday in Atlanta to discuss the proposed split, with negotations still continuing on how much the basketball schools would pay for the Big East name and how the league's NCAA "units" (for basketball tournament wins) and exit fees would be dispersed.

The fracture leaves USF -- and other existing members Cincinnati and Connecticut -- in a football and basketball league with Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, and Temple and this fall. Louisville and Rutgers, which will leave for the ACC and Big Ten respectively in summer 2014, would play in the new league for one season. East Carolina and Tulane are scheduled to join the league in 2014, and Navy is expected to join as a football-only member in 2015. …

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Bulls' skid hits 10 with loss at Pittsburgh

Late posting this, but here's our story from Thursday's Times on USF's men's basketball loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, the Bulls' 10th loss in a row, matching the longest losing streak in Stan Heath's tenure as head coach.

USF again played close to the Panthers well into the second half, but another extended drought saw Pitt score 14 points in a row for a 44-30 lead, effectively putting the game out of reach. The Bulls come home for their best remaining shot at a victory, playing DePaul on Sunday afternoon.

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No. 5 Gators rally, hand USF softball 6th straight loss

TAMPA -- USF's Sara Nevins had a one-hitter and a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth, but No. 5 Florida rallied with three clutch hits, including a two-run home run from Lauren Haeger for a 3-1 victory before an announced crowd of 1,611 at USF Softball Stadium.

The Bulls (6-9) came in having been shut out four games in a row over the weekend, but the scoreless streak ended at 31 innings when Kenshyra Jackson led off the fourth with a solo home run. Florida (17-1) tagged Nevins for three straight hits -- a double by Kelsey Stewart, a game-tying single by Kirsti Merritt, then Haeger's shot to right-centerfield.

"We had some good at-bats. That's the name of the game when you're facing two great pitchers, two All-Americans," said Gators coach Tim Walton, who saw  starter Hannah Rogers improve to 8-1. "It's not about how many hits you get, how many strikeouts you have, it's being able to get that clutch hit and score from second base."

Nevins (2-3) struck out eight batters and was visited on the mound after Stewart's double by USF coach Ken Eriksen, who let her stay in the game. The Bulls, who reached the College World Series last summer, have lost six in a row. …

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Volleyball: Draper excited for young lineup this fall

USF volleyball opened its spring practice on Monday, and as coach Courtney Draper approaches her second season, there's considerable turnover on the roster, with five seniors gone from 2012, as well as two key hitters who are transferring.

"We're going to have a lot of new faces in the fall," said Draper, who could have as many as eight newcomers in 2013. "We're still going to very, very young. Andrea Rodriguez is our only rising senior right now."

-- USF picked up a midyear transfer from Winthrop in middle hitter Jennica Mullins, who will have two years of eligibility with the Bulls. She led Winthrop in kills with 277 as a sophomore and led the Big South conference in blocks with 1.29 per set; by comparison USF's leading blocker had 1.07 per. Mullins, who played at Northside Christian, has known Mullins from summer camps in high school. "Great student, great person. She's been a really nice addition athletically, of course, but also personally she's a joy to have here, too," Draper said. …

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USF women lose at Rutgers, baseball wins at UCF

After two wins against ranked opponents last week, USF's women's basketball team lost at Rutgers on Tuesday night, putting the Bulls back squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble with just two regular-season games left.

The Bulls (19-8, 8-6 in Big East) let Rutgers end a four-game losing streak, but the Scarlet Knights came in with only two home losses and a 36-1 record all-time against the Bulls. USF lost despite forcing 23 Rutgers turnovers -- the Bulls were outrebounded 36-27 and shot just 29 percent from the field, including a 20 percent mark on 3-pointers. Freshman Courtney Williams led the Bulls with 15 points, while USF's top three perimeter shooters, twins Andrea and Andrell Smith and Inga Orekhova, shot a combined 9-for-42, including 2-for-18 beyond the arc.

USF had moved into ESPN.com's projected NCAA field after the two wins last week, but this loss likely means the Bulls must win either Saturday at home against No. 3 Connecticut or in Monday's regular-season finale at Georgetown. The Bulls are tied for sixth in the Big East standings, but would lose tiebreakers with DePaul (8-6) and Villanova (7-6) based on head-to-head results. …

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Notes: For Taggart, success starts with bowl in '13

TAMPA -- Willie Taggart spent 20 minutes Saturday morning talking with the board of the USF Alumni Association, taking a wide range of questins, like what his simplest measure of success in this first season would be.

"Going bowling. That should happen here, year in and year out," said Taggart, taking over a team that hasn't played in a bowl since 2010. "Our ultimate goal is to win the Big East. That has to be our goal every season. But I want this football team to come together. We can't get any of those things done until we come together as one team."

Spring practice starts in three weeks, but Taggart likes what he's seen at 5:30 a.m. conditioning workouts, which he calls "The Chase," a nod to his constant reminders of "chasing greatness."

"I really think our kids are buying into what we're doing. We're doing the little things and we're having fun," he said. "We're in the process of doing it. Are we there yet? No! By no means, we're not there yet. But we're going to get there. They're training now. I tell them they're untrained right now, and we have to train them and get them right."

More morsels from Taggart: …

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Blackwell, Alabama assistant among new USF hires

On the day that Miami made official the hiring of longtime USF assistant Larry Scott as the Hurricanes' new tight ends coach, the Bulls reportedly made a few additions of their own.

Bulls247.com's Josh Newberg was first to report that former USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell, who spent last season as a graduate assistant on Willie Taggart's staff at Western Kentucky, is returning to the Bulls in a non-coaching role, close to what was the "director of high school relations" position held for five years by Rich Rachel.

Then Coachingsearch.com broke news that Taggart has hired a new director of player personnel in Paul Gonnella, who held the same role on Alabama's national championship team this past season. Gonnella has held similar roles in stops at Purdue, Tennessee, Miami and North Carolina. His new job had been held by former WKU assistant Stu Holt, who now looks to be promoted to a full-time assistant, likely to the vacant special-teams coordinator job. Alabama coach Nick Saban had hired former FSU and Clemson assistant Kevin Steele as his director of player personnel, but Taggart is getting a recruiting specialist who has helped bring together several national top-10 classes. …

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ESPN projected NCAA field includes USF women

Newsy off-day for USF women's basketball, as the Bulls picked up enough votes to be an unofficial No. 28 in the Associated Press Top 25 after wins last week against No. 12 Louisville and No. 21 Syracuse.

Senior guard Andrea Smith, who had 35 points in the Louisville win and 18 more against Syracuse, was honored as the Big East's Player of the Week, and in perhaps the best news of the day for Bulls fans, USF has moved into ESPN.com's "Bracketology" projected NCAA field as a No. 11 seed.

Charlie Creme's new projections Monday show the Bulls facing sixth-seeded Florida State in College Station, Texas, in the opening round. The Big East now has eight teams in the ESPN projected field, with St. John's and USF among the "final four in."

"The two games they won were huge in getting them elevated to this level now, but it also helped that a number of other games around them lost," Creme said by phone, mentioning Miami and St. Joe's. "Nobody elevated themselves like South Florida." …

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Can USF women's basketball make Top 25 debut?

This week's Top 25 polls will be out in the next few hours, and after beating two ranked opponents in the past week, USF's women's basketball team has a chance to be ranked for the first time in the program's history.

How realistic is it for the Bulls (19-7, 8-5 in Big East) to be ranked? USF wasn't getting any votes in either the Associated Press or ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll last week, but many of the teams the Bulls are competing with had rough weeks that could make them drop. How much weight will wins against Louisville -- No. 12 in the AP -- and No. 21 Syracuse carry with balloters?

As we tweeted on Sunday, USF is one of 17 teams nationally with two wins against teams in this past week's AP Top 25 -- of those 17, 13 were ranked last week, the others being USF (19-7), Iowa (17-10), LSU (17-10) and Illinois (16-10). We don't know exactly where USF will fall in the new RPI ratings, but they're at 58 in RealTimeRPI's ratings -- that's lower than nearly all the teams that earned top-25 votes last week. …

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Bulls lose top recruiter Scott to Hurricanes

On Saturday morning, speaking to the board of the USF Alumni Association, first-year Bulls football coach Willie Taggart talked about how excited he was that assistant coach Larry Scott, a former USF player who had been courted to join the coaching staffs at Miami and Florida State, had been convinced to stay at his alma mater.

"Guys were trying to take him away from us," Taggart said. "Larry is a diehard Bull. I wasn't going to let them have him. Larry wants to be here too. We want people who want to be here, and Larry wants to be here. ... That has me fired up."

A day later, Miami had come back and lured Scott away, as the Associated Press reported that he had agreed to join Al Golden's staff as tight ends coach, replacing Mario Cristobal, who left to be Alabama's new offensive line coach. …

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Another upset: USF women knock off No. 21 Syracuse

TAMPA -- For the second time in four days, USF women's basketball has significantly upgraded its NCAA Tournament resume by knocking off a ranked opponent, as the Bulls upset No. 21 Syracuse 68-66 in the Sun Dome on Saturday afternoon.

"I think this team's made a statement, beating two top-20 teams in a matter of ... days," coach Jose Fernandez said. "I think we'll get some national attention, that's for sure."

The Bulls (19-7, 8-5 in Big East) rallied from 13 points down in the second half, taking the lead on an Andrell Smith 3-pointer with 1:42 left, then breaking a tie on Akila McDonald's shot with 24 seconds left. Syracuse's last-second heave missed, and the Bulls celebrated a huge win, coming off the heels of an upset Wednesday night at No. 12 Louisville. Those two wins could result in the Bulls being ranked in the top 25 for the first time in the program's history.

"Are we deserving? I think so," Fernandez said. "You just beat two pretty good teams, and the losses that we have, I think this team has shown they can play with anybody in the country. Rutgers is our next focus and we'll go from there." …

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Trainer: Daniels will 'do everything' at USF pro day

B.J. Daniels broke his left ankle late in USF's Nov. 3 win against Connecticut, ending a four-year run as starting quarterback three games early.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

B.J. Daniels broke his left ankle late in USF's Nov. 3 win against Connecticut, ending a four-year run as starting quarterback three games early.

Three and a half months after his senior year abruptly ended with a broken ankle, former USF quarterback B.J. Daniels has made considerable progress and will participate fully in the Bulls' pro day for scouts in 12 days, his trainer said Friday.

"He's coming along good -- he's really healthy now. He's training full speed and looking forward to pro day," said Pete Bommarito, who has been working closely with Daniels -- as well as teammates Sam Barrington, Kayvon Webster and George Baker -- at Bommarito Performance Systems in the Miami area since January 1.

Barrington and Webster are now at the NFL combine workouts in Indianapolis -- as is Bommarito -- and they'll have an opportunity to improve their draft stock in the next few days. Defensive tackle Cory Grissom was also invited to the combine, giving USF three draft hopefuls in Indy. …

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Notes: Wells talks about signees, offense

Back on signing day, we had the chance to talk to USF's new assistants, and I've held off on posting notes to help bridge the gap between signing day and the start of spring football on March 20. We'll start today with USF offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Walt Wells ...

Wells oversees the offensive line, but with Larry Scott handling tackles and tight ends, he'll work more closely with the guards and centers, and all three of USF's offensive line signees for 2013 -- East Point (Ga.) Tri-Cities teammates Dominique Threatt and Jeremi Hall, plus Jesuit's Cameron Ruff -- will get their first looks as interior linemen.

"They're two different players," Wells said of the Georgia teammates. "Dominique Threatt is a blue-collar, all-the-way guy. He's about 6-2, 300. He's very strong already. He's physical, and he is a very serious young man. That's what I like about him. You're going to line him up and physically he's going to be able to get some things done. …

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Half bad: Slow start costs Bulls at St. John's

Another night of Big East basketball, another poor start for USF's men, who saw St. John's jump out to a 14-2 lead and mustered only 17 first-half points in what ended up a 69-54 Red Storm win.

Here's our full story from USF's ninth straight loss, which drops the Bulls to 10-16, 1-13 in Big East play -- if the Bulls lose Wednesday at Pittsburgh, it will match the longest losing streak of Stan Heath's tenure in Tampa.

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USF women knock off No. 12 Louisville

USF women's basketball, needing a signature win to upgrade their NCAA Tournament resume, picked up a huge upset on the road Wednesday night, knocking off No. 12 Louisville 73-62 behind 35 points from senior guard Andrea Smith.

The Bulls (18-7, 7-5 in Big East) beat the second-highest ranked opponent USF has ever beaten, one spot behind a win against No. 11 DePaul in 2005.

Smith matched her career high with 35 points, going 5-for-6 on 3-pointers and 11-of-16 overall, helping the Bulls build a 15-point lead in the second half. USF had nearly beaten the Cardinals in Tampa earlier this month but saw a nine-point second-half lead disappear in the closing minutes.

USF stepped up its defense Wednesday -- Cards star Shoni Schimmel, who had scored 38 points in the first meeting, had to settle for 16 points on 6-of-20 shooting. The Bulls won despite 23 turnovers, including 12 by senior Andrell Smith. …

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