USF Bulls basketball team hopes first Big East win can kick-start season

TAMPA — The USF men's basketball team isn't likely to match last year's 9-9 Big East record, but at 1-5 in league play, the Bulls have the same conference record they did after six games in 2009-10.

The catalyst for USF's strong finish last season was an overtime win at Providence, sparking a four-game winning streak, and coach Stan Heath is hopeful that Sunday's win against the Friars can give his team some momentum during perhaps the easiest stretch of USF's Big East schedule.

"Hopefully we can have that kind of run again," Heath said Tuesday. "It's important we take it one game at a time. The guys can draw from the past and say to themselves, 'Hey, we've been here before. We've still got an opportunity,' and seize the moment as best we can."

Three of the next four are on the road, and USF has yet to win a road game, but the opponents could help that change. Sunday's game at No. 21 West Virginia won't be easy, but the other three teams (Rutgers, DePaul, Providence) are a combined 1-15 in conference play.

Rutgers, whose only league win is against the Friars, has a first-year coach in Mike Rice, but Heath said there's a familiarity because of his background as a Pittsburgh assistant.

"When you're in league play, you kind of know each other inside and out," Heath said. "When there's a new coach, obviously they have a different style. With Mike, you can see the similarities with Pittsburgh, see their defensive strategies are very similar to what Pittsburgh does. You get a little more of a feel than if someone was completely brand new to the league."

BIG HAUL: No football player took home more honors at Saturday's postseason banquet than sophomore LB Armando Sanchez, a Northeast graduate. He earned the Iron Bull (MVP) award for USF's special-teams unit, earned the scout team player of the year honor, as well as the team's scholar athlete award after earning a 4.0 grade-point average in the fall semester. Seven other Bulls had a 3.5 GPA or better in the fall, including K Maikon Bonani, G Chaz Hine and WR Evan Landi with a 3.75 each.

THIS AND THAT: All three of the Bulls' senior guards last year are playing professionally: Dominique Jones with the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, PG Chris Howard in Ukraine and G Mike Mercer in Canada for the Halifax Rainmen of the Premier Basketball League. Mercer is averaging 17 points in his first four games. … One sign that Skip Holtz had an inexperienced team in his first season: Of the 62 players who earned letters in 2010, 45 did so for just the first or second time at USF. … Softball is scheduled to open its new stadium Feb. 10, but the Bulls have contingency plans in place. If construction isn't completed, USF would host its early tournaments at the Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater. … The baseball team opens practice Jan. 27, and with the stadium still being completed, the Bulls are expected to practice at the Yankees' complex.

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.

USF Bulls basketball team hopes first Big East win can kick-start season 01/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 7:22pm]

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