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USF men hope for giant step in confounding climb Sunday against Memphis

The Bulls can end a 27-game skid against ranked opposition when they host the Tigers.
USF junior Justin Brown, center, and the rest of the Bulls will try for their first win against a ranked foe since 2012 when they host No. 21 Memphis on Sunday. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
USF junior Justin Brown, center, and the rest of the Bulls will try for their first win against a ranked foe since 2012 when they host No. 21 Memphis on Sunday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jan. 11

TAMPA ― He knew the climb to respectability and relevance would include some agonizing points.

In recent weeks, USF third-year coach Brian Gregory has watched his team work its way into position for a significant step up, only to lose its footing in the final moment.

“Very frustrating,” 7-foot sophomore Michael Durr said.

Related: Former Tampa Prep star Jolene Shepardson hired as USF volleyball coach

Three days after a 76-74 overtime loss to likely NCAA Tournament qualifier Utah State (on a tip-in at the buzzer), the Bulls squandered a 10-point lead in the last 6½ minutes in a 66-60 defeat to No. 10 FSU.

Then on Tuesday, Gregory’s club (8-8, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) rallied from a 13-point second-half hole at East Carolina and briefly took the lead, but failed to score on its final two possessions in a 62-59 loss.

“We’re miserable to be around right now, just due to the fact that we are getting there,” Gregory said Friday. “But as I’ve said time and time again, at that point where you’re so close, it’s the most difficult time.”

The law of averages suggests the Bulls ultimately will keep climbing. So does Gregory’s philosophy of clinging to core values (defense and gang rebounding). Avoiding turnovers (they had seven down the stretch against FSU) and taking more prudent shots in the waning moments also would help.

Fulfill those objectives, and a team already thisclose to a breakthrough could reach it as soon as Sunday.

No. 21 Memphis (12-3, 1-1), still adjusting to the recent departure of 7-foot freshman (and certain lottery pick) James Wiseman, comes to the Yuengling Center for a 4 p.m. tipoff.

With a victory, USF snaps its 27-game losing skid to ranked foes dating to February 2012. The Tigers, losers of two in a row, are still teeming with future NBA talent including 6-9 freshman Precious Achiuwa (15.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg).

“Instead of five first-rounders, they have four,” Gregory said.

But FSU was equally loaded, and the Bulls nearly knocked them off.

At this stage of the climb, that’s cause for encouragement ― and frustration.

“When you break through to the other side, then you’re able to look back and realize maybe that wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going through it,” Gregory said.

“But it’s tough, and it’s tough on the guys because they know how close they are. But our big thing is, if we’re that close, if we keep getting better, then we’re gonna get there.”

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  1. New USF football coach Jeff Scott, right, talks to members of the football team during a meeting at USF last week. Since then, Scott and his staff  have remained on the recruiting trail, landing six new non-binding commitments. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    New coach Jeff Scott has received six new commitments since Sunday.
  2. USF Bulls guard Laquincy Rideau (3) shoots a 3-pointer over Wichita State Shockers guard Dexter Dennis (0) during the first half at the Yuengling Center. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
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  8. New USF football coach Jeff Scott, left, meets with members of his coaching staff and support staff at USF on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
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  9. New USF football coach Jeff Scott, right, talks to members of the football team during a team meeting at USF on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    Clemson’s former co-offensive coordinator holds his first full team meeting as USF coach.
  10. USF women's coach Jose Fernandez, talking with guard Enna Pehadzic (0) during the Bulls' season-opening win against Jacksonville, leads his team into a critical American Athletic Conference game tonight at Temple. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    A mediocre showing in non-conference play has hindered the Bulls’ NCAA Tournament hopes.
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