Commentary | USF men's basketball team trying to stay on course as it heads into roughest part of schedule

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 19, 2014 

TAMPA

For USF, the basketball season has been about everyone doing what they can to keep the wheels in motion.

Since three-year starting point guard Anthony Collins went down with a knee injury eight games ago, Bulls head coach Stan Heath has been forced to use a band-aid approach.

He eventually had to turn to his son, Josh, to help save the season.

He took the redshirt tag off the freshman, and his value was evident, even in the Bulls' 61-54 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday night at the Sun Dome.

Josh Heath is a court-savvy guard who dished out six assists and helped the Bulls make their presence felt down low by outscoring Cincinnati 26-22 in the paint.

It gave USF a chance to win at the end against a Bearcats squad that is the only team undefeated in American Athletic Conference play (6-0) and is ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 56.2 points per game. The Bearcats have held their opponents to fewer than 70 points for 25 consecutive games and are ranked second in the conference in rebound margin.

"It hurts to lose, and we certainly need to get things going in the right direction. But I can't fault my guys' effort and their fight. If we carry over and build on this we will win games," Coach Heath said.

The coach will need every bit of that same effort over the next two weeks as the Bulls head into the murderer's row part of their schedule. This is a talented team with not a lot of depth, which is a reason they are 1-4 in the ACC and 10-8 overall after starting the season 4-0.

Cincinnati came into the game ranked 19th in the AP poll. The Bulls play host to defending national champion Louisville on Wednesday, visit 17th-ranked Memphis and then return home against SMU and at Cincinnati.

"We played hard and gave ourselves a chance to win and just came up short," Coach Heath said. "Some of the things I was concerned about we handled pretty good. We won the rebounding (36-30). We were concerned about turnovers against their pressure, and we did a good job at that."

There was a feeling that the AAC would be a welcome respite for USF after playing in the tough Big East for eight seasons.

But holdovers Louisville, Cincinnati and Connecticut are still powers, along with conference newcomer Memphis. SMU seems to be making a resurgence under legendary Larry Brown, who has won NCAA and NBA titles as a coach.

The Bulls have talent, but not a lot of depth. They will look for anyone to provide a spark. Against Cincinnati, that person was sophomore Javontae Hawkins, who turned in a career-high 15 points after scoring five points in the previous five games.

"That was great. We needed that," Heath said. "I was expecting him to be playing like that his freshman year. He played with confidence and was aggressive. He was a huge shot in the arm for our team and hopefully he can continue to play like that."

Along with the loss of Collins, Heath now faces the prospect of losing 6-foot-10 freshman John Egbunu, who is under investigation by the NCAA.

It has been alleged that the native of Nigeria falsified his school transcripts and age documents. USF said in a statement that Egbunu was certified and cleared by the NCAA before he enrolled at the school.

"I can't talk specifically, but I am aware there is a review," Heath said. "We will cooperate with the review totally. I am very confident he was cleared with his initial eligibility with the NCAA. We haven't done anything wrong. I can promise you that."

The accusations were made by Linzy Davis, who coached Egbunu in AAU ball. It was reported that his son, Drew, was offered a scholarship by USF, but was ruled academically ineligible and that Davis is angry about that.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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