Commentary | USF men's basketball missing energy and fire from last season

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 10, 2013 


Miracles are hard to repeat, perhaps impossible.

For starters, you need new energy and a new commitment.

The USF men's basketball team didn't seem to have much of either Wednesday night in dropping a 61-53 decision to Villanova at the Sun Dome.

The Bulls (9-5) are 0-2 in Big East play with both losses coming at home. They seem a long way from repeating last year's fairy-tale season that took them into the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

Fortunately, there is time.

But an attitude overhaul is needed.

Villanova came to play. USF showed up at halftime. The Bulls made a run and closed the gap a little in the second half, but they are not good enough to turn it on when they feel like playing and get a win.

This was Big East basketball: Pound it inside and hit your opponent in the gut.

USF took a lot of punches but didn't hit back.

After two conference games, we know this version of the USF basketball team will never be mistaken for last year's squad.

Just a year ago, they fought and scrapped and clawed their way from start to finish in every game. They knew it was the only way to have a chance.

Villanova (11-4, 2-0) pounded the ball inside and got 30 points in the paint to 14 for USF. The Wildcats outrebounded USF 42-32 and had a 15-8 edge on the offensive glass.

They basically won the game in the first half when they grabbed 26 rebounds to 15 for USF in taking a 34-20 lead at intermission.

If you are looking for a sequel to 2011-12, the first thing you need to find is a heartbeat because so much about rebounding is there.

Bulls head coach Stan Heath knows that more than anyone. He knows his team doesn't have a lot of size, but he won't allow his players to use that as an excuse.

"The first seven minutes of the game we didn't come to play. Maybe it was the lingering effects of the Syracuse game (Sunday). We didn't bring the energy we had against them," Heath said. "Syracuse outrebounded us, but our effort and intensity was there. Tonight, it was not there. I am not used to that, and it is something we won't tolerate. It is something we have to fix right away."

The effort was similar to what USF showed when it allowed UCF to ruin its Sun Dome re-opener, but the Bulls had thought that was in the past, especially the way they went up and beat UCF in their second meeting.

You might say Villanova was a little more motivated. The Wildcats had lost four straight to USF and are trying to get back to the national dominance they held just a few years ago.

Their big men, 6-10 Mouphtaou Yarou and 6-11 Daniel Ochefu, had their way inside, combining for 28 points on 12-for-21 shooting and hauling in a combined 21 rebounds.

"We never bring up the past, but with young people if they fear being embarrassed they usually come up with a good performance, and that was the best game we played all year," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "They are a good team, and you don't want to get behind on them. The rebounding edge helped a lot. We have been a good rebounding team all year, and at halftime the differential was bigger and that was important."

The Bulls didn't have a lot of success trying to get the ball inside and settled for a lot of perimeter shots, which contributed to their 35 percent shooting (18-50), while Villanova was 23-for-55.

Victor Rudd (12 points), Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (10) and guard Anthony Collins (11) were the only Bulls to score in double figures.

"We gave the game away in the first half," Fitzpatrick said. "It wasn't so much what they were doing. We just didn't pay attention to detail, and our guards weren't helping in the paint. Every time we got close at the end, they would go on a run."

It's a long season with a lot of games to play, but the Bulls' biggest issue might be trying to recapture the energy and toughness that made last year's team special.

"We put more size out on the court to deal with their height, but then we lose something offensively. We were shooting in the 30s (percent) and not finishing. It was frustrating. The effort needs to improve," Heath said.

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

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