Commentary | Ice-cold USF Bulls fall to Notre Dame, remain in Big East cellar

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 27, 2013 

TAMPA

Anthony Collins reminds you of a young Steve Nash. He is a magician with the basketball who doesn't care if he scores a point.

The USF point guard doesn't have what might be called a traditional jump shot, but he uses a nice floater just like Nash to punish defenses who dare let him shoot in favor of concentrating on the teammates he wants to feed.

"There is nobody like him in the league. No one else can weave and get down low and get in there and kick to the shooters at the last minute. I love him. He is a fearless guy," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said after his 24th-ranked Irish overcame a nine-point, second-half deficit to defeat the Bulls 73-65 on Saturday at the Sun Dome.

The sophomore Collins was as perfect as you could get in the first half, knocking down all four of his shots, including one from 3-point land, and dishing out three assists in 18 minutes.

Collins was the reason the Bulls shot nearly 70 percent in the first half (14-of-23), were 5-of-11 from beyond arc and led 35-28.

As much as Brey might profess to love the six-footer, he was not going to sit back and allow Collins to send the Irish back home a loser. They had beaten USF nine of 10 coming into the game.

"We talked about 20 ways on how we are going to deal with him and

the ball screen, and in the first half we didn't do a good job," Brey said. "If we didn't fix that, we would've lost by 15. In the second half, we did a very good job on him, but he keeps putting pressure on you, getting into the lane deeper and deeper."

Unfortunately for USF, Collins is facing a dilemma similar to what the real Steve Nash is dealing with this year as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Collins can get you an open look, but he can't shoot the ball for you.

If you live and die by the three, you will experience an unforgiving string of deaths no matter how good an outside shooting team you are, and USF is not that good. The Bulls were 3-for-19 from beyond the arc in its previous loss to Seton Hall.

They have been inconsistent from 3-point land all season. It was no more evident than against Notre Dame. They missed 9 of 10 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half and were 10-of-26 (38.5 percent) overall.

It's a reason USF occupies the Big East cellar (1-6) and is 10-9 overall. The Bulls lost a lot upfront through graduation, especially with Gus Gilchrist and Hugh Robertson.

So Collins may be able to twist and weave his way through defenses, but it often feels he is feeding a bunch of ghosts who may or may not be there to take advantage of his generosity.

"My philosophy is to play inside-out, throw it into big guy and create things on the post," USF head coach Stan Heath said. "We want to get the ball driven to the basket and kick it out. But that being said, we don't have a true low post guy down there and so we are very reliant on the 3-point shot, and we are going to try and shoot it.

"There are times I would say we shot a little bit too quick, but they are kids and they are going to take them. Sometimes a guy has a feel, and you want him to play aggressively."

The Bulls have a lot more problems than inconsistent long-range shooting. Their transition defense disappeared in the second half. They were outrebounded 21-8 in the final 20 minutes and by a 2-1 margin for the game (34-17).

"The easy buckets on transition made us believe we could get one here today. We made a concerted effort to control the boards and pounded away." Brey said.

The bright spot for the Bulls is that all 28 of their bench points came from two freshmen -- 6-7 Zach LeDay (17 points) and 6-5 Javontae Hawkins (11).

They didn't back off Notre Dame's big front line, which looks like a bunch of farm boys who left their tractor trailers in the locker room. The Irish rode the broad senior shoulders of 6-10, 258-pound Tom Knight and 6-9, 246-pound Jack Cooley.

The Bulls thought they had solved a lot of problems last week when they upset Georgetown, but they have lost two straight since, and this might be unfixable with the current roster.

"We are playing good teams. It's a good league and there are no nights off," Heath said. "You face teams that have different strengths and sometimes you match up better against certain teams. We are not different than anybody else. Louisville was rolling along and lost two straight."

The Bulls are different.

They have a point guard like no one else in Anthony Collins.

He just needs some help.

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

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