Although their four-game winning streak ended Feb. 7 when Notre Dame was extended to the limit to beat the South Florida Bulls at home, that does not take away from the fact that coach Stan Heath's team has showed it is becoming a legitimate Big East team with a strong upside.
Notre Dame had the answer for Jones, holding him to 3 of 17 shooting, including a miss on 3-point try at the buzzer that would have tied the game, but Jones found a way to be force in the game.
It was almost as if Mike Mercer had been prophet during the week when he said: "No one is hot forever. We are just going to let him keep doing what he's been doing, and when his flame burns out, everybody has to step up and pick up the slack." Howard and Famous almost took up enough slack.
What has happened to turn around the South Florida program?
"Our team has matured," Coach Stan Heath said. "The Providence game (a 109-103 overtime victory Jan. 23) was inspired and it helped us. And Anthony Crater has come along. He's probably the most valuable 4-point scorer in the league. He has taken ball-handling from Jones and Howard, which saves them wear and tear."
In the end, though, Jones carries the load.
The attitude has changed around the program with the winning streak.
"There are changes," Heath noted. "After games, guys we were recruiting in the past who we had to call are now initiating calls to us. When you win, it opens doors that weren't open before."
--F Jarrid Famous had a monster game Feb. 7 against Notre Dame. He hit eight of nine shots from the floor to score 18 points and had eight rebounds.
--With 10 points against Notre Dame, G Dominique Jones became the third Bull to score at least 500 points in three straight seasons at South Florida. The others were Charlie Bradley, who scored 901, 625 and 652 from 1982-85 and Altron Jackson who had 565, 587 and 616 from 1999-2002.
--On Feb. 5, the Bulls' RPI was No. 46, the highest it had ever been.
ON THE SPOT: When you can score like G Dominique Jones, you are always on the spot with a team like South Florida. Victories run through Jones, for his is the man who manufactures the offense. He was scorching in four straight victories, but Notre Dame found the key to holding his scoring down to 10 points when he made just 3 of 17 shots. To Jones' credit, he had eight assists without a turnover to help Chris Howard and Jarrid Famous pick up the scoring slack, combining for 41 points.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's been a lightning bolt for the city of Tampa and our program. There's a buzz that they have never experienced before. We are in uncharted waters." -- Coach Stan Heath on his team's recent four-game winning streak that got them to .500 in the Big East.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: It started like most every season at South Florida, with hope and with G Dominque Jones scoring, but soon the Bulls fell back into their winning ways. Then, all of a sudden in mid-season, they caught fire. Jones was scoring, newcomer Anthony Crater was taking some of the ball-handling, a four-game winning streak developed and talk began to circulate as the team reached .500 in the Big East about post-season play.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG Anthony Crater, G Chris Howard, G Dominique Jones, G Mike Mercer, F Gus Gilchrist, F Jarrid Famous. Key Sub -- F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.
South Florida 70, Pittsburgh 61
South Florida 72, Georgetown 64
Notre Dame 65, South Florida 62
IN FOCUS: The Bulls have reached a point in their season where they could possibly keep their run going. They play three of the next five at home and of the next five only Villanova is a top level Big East team. If they can find a way to beat Cincinnati at home, they have a chance to remain near .500 throughout the season.
--While it was expected that C Gus Gilchrist would be back by now from an early season leg injury, he remains out. Gilchrist has the ability to be one of the better big men in the conference when healthy.
--With Gilchrist not back, G Anthony Crater has become eligible and handling the point, allowing G Chris Howard to be relieved of his ball-handling duties. The result was he scored 23 points against Notre Dame.