GETTING INSIDE USF
The dance is still on the floor for the Bulls.
The opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament is still there, and no one would have thought that a month ago. It doesn't all come down to Saturday's game against Connecticut, but the Bulls need to win to stay in the discussion. A victory gives them a 9-9 conference record and 19 wins overall. The big win came at Georgetown.
Realistically, they then would need to win two games in the Big East tournament to get an NCAA bid.
If the NCAA goes with nine teams from the Big East, the Bulls could be the ninth team if they can win three more games. Notre Dame, UConn and Seton Hall are all still in the discussion as well. Cincinnati's loss to Villanova might have ended its dream.
SOUTH FLORIDA 63, DEPAUL 59: Good thing this was a basketball game and not a beauty pageant -- there was nothing pretty about it. And the Bulls didn't look like a team trying to prove it belongs in the Big Dance, at least in the first half.
DePaul led 27-22 at the half as South Florida shot a miserable 30.4 percent from the floor. The Bulls found their stroke in the second half, shooting 44.8 percent, as they outscored the home team 41-32.
The Bulls led 56-48 on a layup by Dominique Jones with 5:02 left in the game, but DePaul answered with an 8-0 run to tie the game at 56 with 2:32 to play. Jones answered with a three-pointer, Augustus Gilchrist made a layup with 55 seconds left and the Blue Demons were done.
South Florida, which plays UConn on Saturday, is one win away from .500 in the Big East. The Bulls are 18-11 overall. DePaul fell to 8-21 overall, 1-16 in the Big East.
Jones led the Bulls with 20 points. Senior Chris Howard scored 13 and Gilchrist added 11.
--It is getting to be that time of year when you think about postseason honors, and Stan Heath has to be a candidate for Big East Coach of the Year.
True, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim will probably win the award considering that his team came out of the shadows of the conference to become a contender for the national championship, but his talent was underrated as the season began.
Heath, on the other hand, had to hold his team together while Gus Gilchrist, a talented forward who can go both inside and out, was injured for two months. Even on a team with Dominique Jones, Gilchrist was the leading scorer and rebounder when injured.
Heath held the team together while winning 17 games entering the final week of the regular season and at one point looking as if it might even be a bubble team for the NCAA.
The former Arkansas coach not only has gotten an All-American season out of Jones, who goes into the final days of the season in a battle for the Big East scoring title with Notre Dame's injured Luke Harangody, but has seen Mike Mercer, Jarrid Famous and Chris Howard develop into complementary scorers.
--The Bulls hit a season-high 32 of 38 free throws Feb. 27 against Providence, which is 84.2 percent.
--Coach Stan Heath won his 150th game as he completed a sweep of Providence.
--G Dominique Jones hit 14 of 16 free throws against Providence. It was the seventh game this season in which he has scored at least 10 points from the free throw line.
--G Mike Mercer scored 18 points, one short of his season high, against Providence.
ON THE SPOT: As expected, the Bulls dominated the boards against DePaul, but their big guys need to keep rebounding at both ends of the floor. The Bulls had 39 boards to 27 for the Blue Demons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he's as good as advertised, not just one of the best players at South Florida, but I think he will have a long, long career at another level." -- Providence Coach Keno Davis on USF's Dominique Jones after he scored 26 against the Friars.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: South Florida grew by leaps and bounds this season with G Dominique Jones leading the way. For much of the season the Bulls looked about as expected, but they caught fire in late January, winning four straight games, including an upset of No. 7 Georgetown on the road. They won four consecutive home games and five of seven overall before suffering a disappointing home upset at the hands of a struggling St. John's team. They also swept Providence, the third straight year they have swept a Big East opponent.
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.
St. John's 74, South Florida 58
Villanova 74, South Florida 49
South Florida 99, Providence 93
South Florida 63, DePaul 59
vs. Connecticut, Saturday, March 6
IN FOCUS: Hard to believe, but South Florida could really help its NCAA Tournament hopes by knocking off UConn.
--Dominique Jones led the Bulls in scoring Tuesday for the 14th time in the last 15 games. The junior finished with 20 points and was 10 of 12 from the free throw line and 4 of 17 from the floor. He also pulled down seven rebounds.
--Chris Howard is really coming on when it counts for the Bulls. With his 13 points against DePaul, the senior has scored in double figures in nine of his last 12 games. He was 4 of 12 shooting from the floor and 5 of 8 from the line in 39 minutes for the Bulls. Howard made the 100th start of his South Florida career against Providence on Feb. 27.
--Augustus Gilchrist had a solid but not spectacular game against DePaul. He had 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in 28 minutes. He's going to have to play a little better if the Bulls are going to win on Saturday.