TAMPA — In two weeks and four games, USF and guard Dominique Jones have made the nation's fans stop to watch something they might not have cared about — or had much reason to care about — before.
With four wins, two against ranked teams, Jones and the Bulls have put themselves on the map, and a win today at Notre Dame could result in the school's first appearance in the Associated Press Top 25. There is talk of USF making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years.
But if you ask Jones about the roll he's on, averaging 35 points per game in the wins, he'll tell you the Bulls' tear is nothing out of the ordinary.
"I'm not on a roll," Jones insisted Friday before a quick interview with Sports Illustrated. "I just feel like I feel a lot more comfortable on the court.
"I feel I've got coach (Stan) Heath's trust. I feel like he trusts me 100 percent. Earlier in the season, I felt like it was only 80 or 90. I feel like I can shoot a bad shot and him not have a problem with it, and that means a lot."
USF has not had many shots to have problems with since the Bulls trailed at Providence by nine points with 40 seconds left Jan. 22. The Bulls rallied to win in overtime, then needed overtime to beat Seton Hall.
Then things really started to happen: a home win against No. 17 Pittsburgh followed by Wednesday's win at No. 7 Georgetown.
The Bulls are focused and confident they can sustain their success.
"You can call it whatever you want to, but I don't see a team on the schedule that we can't beat," Jones said.
"I know that teams are not going to give us wins. We have to come to practice, and we have to work hard. We have to go out there and take wins, take respect, take it all. … We are making something out of this season. It feels good."
Of USF's eight remaining opponents, only Villanova entered the weekend with a winning record in Big East play.
What's more, the Bulls today might regain the services of sophomore forward Gus Gilchrist, who hasn't played since he severely sprained an ankle in December.
Gilchrist was USF's leading scorer before his injury, so two weeks ago his return was a popular starting point for fans' hopes. Now his addition must be weighed against potential disruptions to the team's winning chemistry.
"That is going to fall on me and (Jones) to make sure that we fit him in," said point guard Chris Howard, who has three turnovers in 157 minutes in the four wins. "Me being a point guard, make sure he gets touches and gets comfortable back into the system.
"At the same time, we have to understand that the things that we have been doing have been working. We just have to keep continuing to do that."
USF (15-7, 5-5) won three conference road games in its first four seasons; now the Bulls have won two straight. After today at Notre Dame and Saturday at Marquette, USF has a Feb. 16 home game against Cincinnati, then four home dates in the final six games.
"We never want January, February and March to be an off time in Tampa," Heath said. "This is something we have always wanted to do.
"Our players and coaches have always wanted to bring exciting basketball to Tampa, and we believe we are moving in that direction."
Having the Bulls play even better is Heath's challenge.
"Our team is really making a lot of progress," he said. "We are believing in ourselves and were working extremely hard in practice, so we can't lose our focus, and we can't lose our edge. We still have to be the hunting team and not the team that is sitting back and being lazy.
"I do believe our guys have the right mind-set, and they're excited about what has happened. But we have to make sure we remember that three weeks ago we were 0-4 and things can change in a hurry if we don't continue to make progress and get better."
Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813 )226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.