Sunday, February 18, 2018
Sports

USF can ill afford another Detroit debacle

TAMPA —The smoke alarm hasn't been triggered, but the conditions are prime for plumes. Calamity remains in the distance, but concern is front and center. No one in the Bulls basketball camp is panicking, but some soon may be pacing.

Saturday's 65-60 loss to 3-4 Detroit was ugly. The Bulls' RPI (261, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi), is uglier. Fortunately for USF (4-2), the NCAA Tournament selection committee doesn't convene for another three months.

But because it resides in an unforgiving conference, USF's should-win games are must-wins. If the Bulls want to make a second March Madness excursion in three seasons, they can ill-afford another Detroit debacle.

"I don't know the last time we've had an undefeated team and I also know the best season we ever had in the history of our program (2011-12), I think we were 7-6 in the non-conference season," coach Stan Heath said Monday. "So it's not panic time at all, but we do need to improve ourselves."

Improvement starts with the veterans, who appear to be taking ownership of a two-game skid.

Heath was unhappy with how players mentally emerged from the locker room after halftime Saturday, when they led by eight. The nonchalance, he suggested, was clear during warmups.

The following day, the veterans called a players-only meeting. "We've got to know each other's role and what they try to expect," senior guard Martino Brock said, "because it's about to be harder going down the road. We've got to beat the easy teams."

Even the pushovers will be a struggle if the Bulls can't find a shooting touch. USF ranks seventh in the American Athletic Conference in field-goal percentage (44.9) and last in 3-point percentage (29.2).

Detroit essentially closed out Saturday's game in a zone. The Bulls are likely to see a lot more unless the clangs follow complacency out the door.

"We've got to really improve our rebounding and we've got to start knocking down some shots," Heath said.

"Those are the two major culprits (against Detroit), our inability to finish possessions with a rebound and inability to knock down shots. You can't go 3-for-18 from the 3-point line."

Perhaps the corrections will come with chemistry. For all the hope that arrived with super-sized freshmen John Egbunu and Chris Perry, the Bulls remain a work in progress: an enticing blend of upperclassmen, heralded rookies and juco talent (Corey Allen Jr.).

Heath still is sorting out his rotation, tweaking lineups, gauging the nightly intensity of his rookies. When solid answers come, so, too, might consistency.

"We've got three veterans that have played, but we have a lot of new guys and they're still trying to figure some of it out," Heath said. "Sometimes, they come to the game and they say, 'Oh, who's Detroit? I don't know much about them.' And they don't have that same game readiness."

The Bulls have plenty of time to increase their RPI, quality-win total and optimism. The panic-mode mechanism has not been activated.

But after Detroit, the safety has been disengaged.

FAIRS NAMED PLAYER OF YEAR: The sophomore jinx turned out to be outside hitter Erin Fairs' most prominent kill of 2013.

Last year's Big East freshman of the year, Fairs capped a dazzling follow-up season Tuesday by being named the inaugural AAC volleyball player of the year.

The 5-foot-11 Texan was joined on the all-conference first team by Bulls senior blocker Andrea Rodriguez Gomez. The pair helped lead USF to a 17-15 overall mark (11-7 in conference) that included a stretch of seven victories in eight league matches.

Fairs' 429 kills (3.73 per set) were 34 more than the second-highest total in the conference, and her 4.41 digs per set were tops in the American among outside hitters.

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