TAMPA ― Question the quality of the field in the College Basketball Invitational. Scoff at its pay-to-play prerequisite. Any way you slice it (or rip it), one fact is indisputable.
USF is one of only 28 Division I teams still practicing today.
The Bulls’ suffocating perimeter defense took Utah Valley out of its game, and the CBI, on Monday before 1,679 at the Yuengling Center. USF’s 66-57 triumph propels it into Thursday night’s semifinals, where it will host the winner of Monday’s late game between Brown and Loyola Marymount.
“We’re gonna try to squeeze every ounce of positives that we can get out of playing in this thing,” Bulls second-year coach Brian Gregory said. “And I think our guys have done that.”
In a sparkling ensemble defensive effort on the perimeter, the Bulls (21-13) limited the Wolverines (25-10) ― 19th nationally in 3-point percentage (38.4) ― to 6-for-19 from long range and their second-lowest scoring output of the year. Three of those 3-pointers came in the final 2:20, when USF’s lead had reached 18 points.
Redshirt junior guard Jake Toolson, the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, scored only seven points, less than half his season average (15.8).
Sophomores David Collins and Justin Brown, and senior T.J. Lang, all took a turn on Toolson, with USF also interspersing some 2-3 zone. As a result, the Bulls conceded a little inside, surrendering 36 points in the paint to Utah Valley’s imposing, veteran frontcourt. No matter.
“We were pushing out on (UVU’s guards), trying to make them go to the basket and finish over our big guys,” Collins said. “And I think they struggled doing that.”
Meantime, the Bulls went 10-for-25 from 3-point range. They had six during a 22-6 second-half spurt that pushed their lead to 59-43.
“And the 3s we took were really good, because they came within the offense and guys moving the ball, sharing the ball and making the extra pass,” Gregory said. “Even the ones we missed...I thought every single one of 'em was a good shot.”
Redshirt freshman Alexis Yetna recorded his 13th double double of the season (18 points, 10 rebounds), scoring 13 of the Bulls’ first 17 points. Collins added 17, finishing 3-for-6 from long range.
“They were excited to play, they were excited in that locker room (afterward),” Gregory said. “We’re just trying to build some momentum in a program that didn’t have any.”
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.