Commentary | Sun Dome opening had everything, but a victory by USF basketball team

November 11, 2012 

TAMPA

Maybe it's time for the Bulls to get ugly.

Pretty doesn't fit the University of South Florida men's basketball team. Finesse is a dirty word. Racehorse basketball might be alien to these Bulls.

It was pretty Saturday night when USF showcased its $35 million renovated Sun Dome. The seats were covered in white and, for the most part, filled. The building echoed with raves, and if you closed your eyes you might think you were among the Cameron Crazies.

Everything went well for USF except one thing.

The Bulls forgot to win and were outhustled and outplayed in a convincing 74-56 loss to UCF.

Instead of the share-the-ball concept the Bulls embraced last year, it was more look-what-I-can-do basketball.

"Our team needs some time to figure things out. We need to become more of team that shares the ball. We tried to do too much where one person was out of sorts, and that's on me," USF head coach Stan Heath said.

The Bulls tried to run, they tried to play shoot 'em up. They tried to look pretty, but it got ugly. Pretty is not in their DNA.

The worse thing is that the loss came to UCF. That's sacrilegious.

If you are a USF athletic fan, you cannot lose to UCF in anything.

You are the Big East and they are not (until next season).

Perhaps the curse of Skip Holtz has gotten so big it infected the Sun Dome. But that demon makes you lose close games, and this wasn't close.

Maybe it's time for the Bulls to put those dirty socks back on and play their brand of street-brawl basketball. It worked last year, taking them to an NCAA Tournament.

You say wait!

What for?

If the Lakers can know Mike Brown is bad after five games, we can see pretty basketball is pretty bad for the Bulls in one night.

If this continues, fans will be clamoring for those 42-41 games where every possession is like stealing a few bricks of gold out of Fort Knox.

USF needs to do something before that $35 million goes to waste. It is already throwing money away on Skip Holtz. Why do it on a building that never did anything to offend anyone?

USF looked as if it was living off last year's laurels, and UCF was hungry and clawing to get some respect. The Knights are ineligible for the NCAA tournament this season so every game is do-or-die for them.

UCF's domination of the boards was outrageous: 45-26. They did have a size advantage, but that big a margin is more about effort and desire. And they shot 26-for-52 while the Bulls clang the nets to a 20-55 tune, which might indicate they were a little more interested.

"We didn't play well, but the stat that bothered me were the effort plays," Heath said. "They dominated us on the glass. We have always been pretty good at taking away the other team's top players, but couldn't do get a handle on (Isaiah) Sykes (26 pts, 11 rebs) and (Keith) Clanton (16 points, 16 rebounds)."

Last year, when the Bulls made their miracle run to the NCAA Tournament, help defense was a premium. On Saturday night, it was non-existent.

"I was concerned about their size, but our biggest problem was our rotation. It is not where it has been where we were into covering for each other like we did in the past," Heath said.

The best thing is that it was the season opener and there is a lot of basketball to be played.

But this area has never been a basketball hotbed, and if the Bulls don't win you can expect crowds to dwindle. The announced attendance was 7,717, which is good for the Sun Dome, but a lot of people started leaving with five minutes left.

UCF even had a small, but loud, contingent of fans that was not afraid to voice its opinion, demonstrating the Sun Dome has a ways to go before it becomes an intimidating arena.

This was a game between a team living off last year and another living to make a statement.

"We let the crowd down. We never got them engaged, but there are a lot of games to play," Heath said.

The coach has built a following, but basketball fans around here can be fickle and won't wait very long before they stop coming. Hopefully Heath will figure things out before that.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at@ADellSports.

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