Saddled with a smaller-than-expected lineup due to injuries, USF has embraced defense and dribble penetration as its two prerequisites for victory.
Monday afternoon in Grand Cayman, the Bulls (3-2) brandished both in a 66-55 triumph against 2018 Final Four qualifier Loyola Chicago in the opening round of the Cayman Islands Classic.
Down by six at halftime, the Bulls held the Ramblers to 22 second-half points while committing only five turnovers. Junior wing David Collins and senior point guard Laquincy Rideau combined for 38 points and eight assists to lead USF.
“They’re tough and physical and got us out of everything offensively,” said Bulls third-year coach Brian Gregory, who watched Loyola hit eight of its first nine shots en route to a 12-point first-half lead.
“So now we’ve got to go with what we’ve got, and that’s (the perimeter players) trying to spread the court and drive it and play off the drive.”
Loyola, meantime, went the final 10:27 of the game without a field goal as USF sealed things with a 16-2 run during that stretch. Ramblers junior forward Cameron Krutwig, a preseason first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference pick, had 12 first-half points but managed only four in the second.
“We’re not pretty, but we are tough, and we showed it tonight,” said Gregory, whose team faces New Mexico State on Tuesday at 1:30. “This was the toughness that we need to play with every game.”