Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sports

USF Bulls missing many elements

TAMPA — Stan Heath can't point to just one reason why last season's USF basketball team made an amazing run to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, while this year's squad sits last in the Big East.

These Bulls don't rebound nearly as well. The defense that was a signature last season, giving up the fewest points in Big East history, now allows more than six points more per game than a year ago.

But, as his team plays its final six regular-season games, including today at home against No. 12 Louisville, Heath recognizes that his players, for whatever reason, aren't as tough and resilient as they were last season.

"We were the direct opposite kind of team last year," Heath said at practice Wednesday, remembering the 2011-12 Bulls, who finished 22-14 and 12-6 in the Big East. "We could be down, could make three shots in the first half against Temple (in the NCAA second round) and look terrible offensively and (not care) and come out and play in the second half. We had a different mind-set. That's why last year, we were special. We didn't put our heads down, didn't get discouraged. It's a different group of guys."

USF is 1-11 in conference play, and even that win, against a Georgetown team now co-leading the Big East, is confounding and reminds the Bulls they should be able to play with anyone in the league. To some extent USF has, with seemingly every game a combination of one good half and one distinctly-not-good half.

Against Providence on Wednesday, the Bulls jumped to a 20-7 lead and were up 11 to open the second half, then hit a terrible lull as the Friars went on a 23-2 run.

"I think we've had some habits that we've had a hard time breaking," Heath said. "Whether it's coming out of halftime, whether it's a slow start at the beginning of game, I do think we've had some recurring themes. That's difficult. In this league, it can affect you mentally. You play a really good game and maybe come up short, the next team you play is Syracuse or Louisville. It's hard to handle that. There's no breaks in this schedule at all."

USF fans know this well — the Bulls went 1-15 in their Big East debut in 2005-06 but have mustered at least three league wins in every season since. This season has played out much like 2010-11, where USF came off an NIT appearance, only to go 10-23 and struggle to a 3-15 league record.

Young players have picked up larger roles this season. Before Wednesday's loss and a 26-point game by junior Victor Rudd, freshman guard JaVontae Hawkins was the Bulls' leading scorer over a nine-game span; forward Zach LeDay has also seen more playing time.

"We're asking a lot from those guys this year, and it's tough," senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick said. "The transition from high school to Big East basketball is extremely tough, and some of the things that Coach tries to teach us on defense, you're not going to get it overnight. … One thing you can't teach is effort, and those two guys, they give maximum effort every single game. You're never going to question their effort on the court."

USF needs two wins in six games to avoid the worst Big East record in Heath's six seasons, but only one of those six opponents — DePaul (2-10), which USF hosts March 3 — has a losing record in conference play. The road doesn't get easier, so Heath needs his team to find a toughness to match its remaining schedule.

"You have to be mentally tough," he said. "We haven't been as mentally tough as we've needed to be this season. We're going to still keep fighting. That's all we can do."

View Greg Auman's blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf. Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.

Comments

Wednesday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballTulsa at Temple6 p.m.ESPNewsVillanova at Georgetown6:30 p.m.FS1Dayton at St. Joseph’s6:30 p.m.CBSSNArkansas at Florida7 p.m.ESPN2; 1250-AMSMU at Wichita State7 p.m.ESPNUAuburn at Alabama7 p.m.SECUSF at East Carolina7 p.m.820-AM...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Celtics, Olympics legend White dies

Celtics, Olympics legend White dies

BOSTON — Basketball Hall of Famer Jo Jo White, a two-time NBA champion with the Celtics and an Olympic gold medalist, died Tuesday. He was 71 and had been battling cancer in recent years, though no cause of death was provided. In a statement, the Cel...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Five straight goals lift Rangers past Flyers

Five straight goals lift Rangers past Flyers

NEW YORK — Rick Nash scored twice while the Rangers notched five straight goals in a 5-1 victory over the Flyers on Tuesday night. Jordan Weal put Philadelphia up 1-0 before Nash, J.T. Miller, Paul Carey and Michael Grabner combined to make it 5-1 by...
Updated: 26 minutes ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
UNC streak over Clemson at 59-0

UNC streak over Clemson at 59-0

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Graduate transfer Cameron Johnson scored a season-high 21 to help No. 15 North Carolina hold off No. 20 Clemson 87-79 on Tuesday night, improving its all-time home record against the Tigers to 59-0. It’s the longest home winning s...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Largo rallies past Palm Harbor University 3-2, wins PCAC north

LARGO — Prior to Tuesday night's game against Palm Harbor University, Largo coach Dan Flynn gave his team a pep talk that may have been slightly embellished. He told his team that he talked to fellow coaches, who told him they had little chance...
Updated: 1 hour ago

MAKING NEWSNASSAR VICTIM: ‘YOU ARE A REPULSIVE LIAR’One of the dozens of victims expected to testify at the sentencing hearing of a disgraced former Michigan sports doctor Tuesday described the sexual abuse Larry Nassar inflicted on her as a child an...
Updated: 2 hours ago
A win, a few doubts

A win, a few doubts

MELBOURNE, Australia — One fine match does not make a comeback.Novak Djokovic’s elbow or some other body part may get sore again as the rallies and the serves pile up. His confidence, rattled before he took his involuntary six-month break from the ga...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Dale Jr., man about town

Dale Jr., man about town

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nearly every day brings a new experience for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who spent the first 43 years of his life living in a bubble that consisted of NASCAR and not much else. Now that he has retired from full-time racing, he can experien...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Sports in brief

SOCCERenglish first: GOAL COUNTS as video overturns callIn a first for English soccer, a goal was awarded thanks to the intervention of a video assistant referee as Leicester advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup on Tuesday. Kelechi Iheanacho’s ...
Updated: 4 hours ago