Conference play continued for South Florida with an extremely disappointing overtime loss to No. 4 Connecticut in Storrs, giving hope after a start but also showing exactly what the Bulls have been lacking.
The loss dropped them to 3-9 in games decided by 10 or fewer points and the reason has been that they have not found a player to take over a game as they had last year.
"When we had Dominique Jones, it was the opposite," Bulls coach Stan Heath said after the UConn game of Jones, who left early for the NBA. "I've got to find a way to get a Kemba Walker on my team that, down the stretch, will show a little leadership, get the ball to the right guys. ... It's not easy."
Without that type of player, look for some teams to go zone on South Florida as the season progresses. That's exactly what Jim Calhoun did against the Bulls.
"I don't know why we go freeze-frame and stand around like that," Heath said. "We don't do it in practice. I don't know, maybe they thought (Hasheem) Thabeet (UConn's former 7-foot-3 center) was in there or something."
Thabeet, of course, left after last season. Still, considering the situation, it was an encouraging debut in the conference that can only help South Florida.
"To come into a place like this, on New Year's Eve, and to battle toe-to-toe with a top-ranked team, I think our guys should feel like we're not too far out of the woods from being a team that can win games," Heath said.
--C Augustus Gilchrist returned to the team on Dec. 22 after being away for what Coach Stan Heath termed "philosophical differences."
--F Ron Anderson Jr. has established himself as one of the toughest rebounders in the Big East, ranking fifth as conference play began as he averaged 8.2 per game.
--G Anthony Crater has done a solid job running the Bulls from the point when healthy and has a pair of 7-assist games to his credit.
BY THE NUMBERS: 71-15 -- The combined record of the seven non-conference teams that defeated South Florida prior to the beginning of conference play. It included three teams in the Top 25 -- Central Florida, BYU and Cleveland State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We never really had an answer for Gilchrist. He's one of the best big guys in the country. He absolutely was terrific." -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun in the St. Petersburg Times on Augustus Gilchrist.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Villanova, Jan. 6
KEY MATCHUPS: The thing about the Big East is that it never, ever seems to get any easier. After taking UConn to overtime on the road, USF then comes home to face Villanova. You face Villanova and a lot is on your mind as they have four players averaging in double figures, but nothing more than containing Corey Stokes. Stokes has more than half of Villanova's 3-point shots this season. And you don't foul Stokes, who is 30-for-31 this year from the free throw line.
--vs. Louisville, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: Finding shots will be the big problem against the Cardinals, a defense-first team. The Cardinals went into the New Year's weekend ranked No. 4 in the nation in field goal percentage defense, allowing only 35.5 percent, which is a problem for South Florida, a team having problems scoring. Senior Preston Knowles is the leading scorer on a team that likes to push the tempo.
FUTURES MARKET: Sometimes a coach's coaching is done off the court and out of view of the public. That's what Stan Heath was doing with his big man, Augustus Gilchrist, who missed three games in the middle of the season for what the coach said was "philosophical differences." Gilchrist had underachieved through the early going, especially with star Donte Jones having moved on to the NBA and that led to some problems between coach and player. Gilchrist returned in time for Big East play.
--Coach Stan Heath changed his lineup for the UConn game as he returned Mike Burwell and Augustus Gilchrist to the starting unit for the first time since Dec. 4 against Florida Atlantic. Gilchrist responded with 21 points, two shy of his season high.
--Junior G Anthony Crater, coming back from an ankle sprain, hit a career-high four three-pointers and set a career high in points with 14 in an overtime loss to UConn. Crater's final 3 came at the final buzzer ending the overtime loss, after he had sent the game into overtime with a 3 with 24.8 seconds left in regulation.