Bulls Lock Down The Bearcats to Lock Up a Big Win

February 16, 2010

If you’re an old-timer (or a semi old-timer like me), it felt really nice to finally win an important game against Cincinnati. I know that isn’t the same team as it was when Huggins was there. Among other things, their players graduate now, and they don’t punch police horses and/or spend any time in jail. But still, USF must have lost The Big Game at Home to the Bearcats at least a half-dozen times over the years. Finally they get one, and without much drama or suspense.

It looked like Heath’s game plan changed a bit with Famous out. Shorthanded and realizing that he didn’t have much of a bench or a front line to defend the rim, Heath decided to make the game really short, stretch out possessions, and play some mean perimeter defense with his guards. It wasn’t exactly a fun game to watch, but as far as a way to win, it did the trick nicely.

Cincinnati had nothing in the first half. Then they came out in the second half and had even less. They really struggled with ball handling (they fumbled at least three or four balls away), running their offense, and capitalizing on their second-chance opportunities. There were a lot of misses around the rim. But credit is due to the Bulls’ defense because they were in Cincinnati’s face all night long. The man-to-man D was fierce tonight. With eight minutes left the Bulls had only given up 30 points. Until the Bearcats emptied the paint and started driving to the rim to either score or draw contact, they couldn’t go anywhere. Lance Stephenson only had four points and one field goal, and Deonta Wright scored most of his points in garbage time.

The Bearcats had the same defensive strategy that Notre Dame and Marquette offered up. Press Dominique Jones, help on defense when he tries to get to the rim, get the ball out of his hands, and make everyone else beat them. They did a decent job of it for awhile, but tonight the Bulls made more outside shots. The Bulls spaced out better on set plays for Jones, and Mike Mercer and Anthony Crater both shot well from the perimeter in the first half. When Cincinnati had to pay more attention to the shooters, and eventually had to start trapping to try and get back in the game, DoJo found more room to operate in the second half. The fouls piled up, Jones lived at the free throw line, and he ended up with 26 points.

A few other things:

– Nice crowd tonight. A lot of people showed up late because the game started at 7 instead of 7:30, but the lower two levels were pretty much full. Everyone make sure you’re on time for the game on Saturday… it starts at high noon.

– I know Toarlyn Fitzpatrick is a freshman and hopefully he has a lot of development ahead of him, but man did he struggle tonight. Without Famous to back him up and with Gus still not quite 100%, he had to shoulder more of the load than he could handle. He couldn’t keep Ibrahima Thomas off the offensive glass (good thing Thomas missed so many putbacks), he still looks confused on defensive rotations, and let’s all just agree that his botched layup/dunk/whatever that was in the second half never happened.

– OK, remember when the clock stopped in the first few minutes of the second half? The game clock and shot clock both stopped, and when Heath pointed it out, the refs stopped the game and took 6 seconds off the shot clock. Not only was that way more than 6 seconds – it was more like 20 – but the refs never adjusted the game clock. Bad job by them. Fortunately that didn’t end up being a factor.

– Skip Holtz’s glowing review of the Embassy Suites breakfast buffet made me hungry and strangely motivated. I was ready to run through a brick wall to get that man a waffle.

St. John’s is up next in a Saturday matinee. Once again, tipoff is at 12 noon. Not 12:30. Not 1:00. Be there. On time if possible.

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