Commentary | USF Bulls wake up just in time for much-needed Big East win

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 20, 2013 

TAMPA

USF had run out of moral victories. And if you watched them play the first half against Georgetown, you would've thought they ran out of talent -- if they ever had any.

They couldn't shoot, they couldn't defend, they couldn't rebound.

It was a wonder they were only down 31-23 Saturday night at the Sun Dome. Now the Hoyas defense can make any team look horrendous, but this was a bit much even for Bulls head coach Stan Heath.

With the Tampa Bay area focused on the return of the guys with ice skates and hockey sticks down the road at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Bulls wanted to make a statement: Don't forget about us.

But you wanted to do just that after the first 20 minutes.

Whatever talk Heath gave his kids ought to be bottled and saved. They were winless in four Big East games, and their season was walking the plank.

"I told them to be more aggressive offensively, and after the game I told (point guard) Anthony Collins he can't just show up for one half," Heath said.

USF was absolutely horrible in the first half. The Bulls missed their first 10 shots from beyond the arc and finished the first 20 minutes 1-for-14 from 3-point land and 9-for-29 overall (31 percent). Georgetown shot 12-for-20 and drained 5 of 10 at

tempts from bonus land.

The Bulls came out in the second half nailing three straight treys and 5 of their first 6 attempts. It forced Georgetown to abandon its 2-3 zone that seemed to stretch out into the parking lot.

Collins' eyes lit up.

"Once they went man, Anthony took over. He was a big factor getting into the lane, drawing fouls and drawing defenders, which left our shooters open," Heath said.

In the second half, USF shot 11-for-22 and was 7-for-14 on treys. Its defense even tightened, forcing the Hoyas to make tough shots. They hit 10 of 25 attempts and 2 of 8 threes.

This was a gut-check game for the Bulls. They suffered a tough three-point loss on the road at Rutgers on Thursday night and got back home at 4 in the morning. There was a little sleep and then classes, but no time to do any heavy practicing.

"We couldn't practice and just went through a mental preparation for the game, which is tough against a team like Georgetown (12-4, 2-3 Big East)," Heath said. "Despite all of that, these guys executed the game plan. It shows how determined they were to get a win in this league. They scrapped and battled until the end."

After going scoreless in the first half with only one assist, Collins scored 14 second-half points, hit 2 of 3 shots from beyond the arc and dished out five assists.

"We just tried to play help defense and get to whoever the ball was going to and tried to get a stop," Collins said. "My teammates always beg me to shoot the ball and that it doesn't matter if I make or miss. The coach says when we shoot threes it's always off my penetration, and I tried to get them open looks."

Georgetown head coach George Thompson III was the first to admit that Collins was a headache and the catalyst for the Bulls.

"They starting hitting shots in the second half and quite honestly our urgency to get out on the shooters wasn't where it needed to be," Thompson said. "We were not getting out on their shooters, and we ended up watching him too much and he kicked it out to open shooters."

For Heath it was a much-needed win. Another loss would've put the Bulls in a psychological hole that might have been impossible to escape.

"I felt like our backs were against the wall, and it was a gutsy performance," Heath said. "When you are 0-4 in the league, down by eight at half and 11 when they hit a three, you wonder what you are going to see from your team. So I don't care if we shot one percent, we won.

"This is a great league, and Georgetown is a very good team. When we shoot as bad as we did in the first half, we tell them to stay aggressive and try to get yourself to the free-throw line and get to the rim in transition. Our second-half numbers were 50 percent shooting, 53 percent on threes and 90 percent from the free throw line, that's a heckuva second half."

Two of the Bulls' (10-7) four league losses are to Louisville and Syracuse, ranked first and sixth nationally.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.

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