TAMPA – After a rough finish to the regular season in which they lost six of their last seven American Conference games, with four of the defeats at the hands of NCAA tournament teams, followed by a one-and-done in the conference tournament, the South Florida Bulls refuse to call it a season.
A 66-57 win over Utah Valley at the Yuengling Center on Monday night lifted the Bulls into the College Basketball Invitational semifinals. On Thursday night (7:00) they will host the winner of Brown/Loyola Marymount, which tipped off at 10 ET Monday.
At 21-13 and with what is now a record 16 home-court victories, the Bulls have used this tournament as yet another positive experience in what has been a season full of them under second-year coach Brian Gregory.
“We’re going to try to squeeze every ounce of positives that we can get out of playing in this thing, and I think our guys have done that,” said Gregory. “More practice time, more individual skill time with a purpose. The experience of a quick turnaround in one or two days trying to get ready, develop a game plan, have those guys execute that game plan and today making an (defensive) adjustment during the game. All those things are so important in terms of our development as a program.”
The Bulls were out-rebounded 18-12, but led what was an overall well-played first half, 33-32. Neither team played with much cohesion, or seemingly much of a clue at times in the first 10-12 minutes of the second half. At one point the teams were a combined 3-for-23 from the field.
The Bulls, though, would eventually pull away. David Collins nailed a pair of three-pointers and Antun Maricevic also hit one from beyond the arc for nine straight points as part of a 19-4 run that made it 59-43 with 5:29 remaining.
The Bulls maintained at least a 10-point lead the rest of the way before the Wolverines hit a three-pointer at the buzzer for the final margin.
“We played a very physical and experienced team and they took it to us in the lane in the first half,” said Gregory. “I challenged our guys a little bit at halftime because we were not rebounding the ball or guarding around the basket as well as we need to.”
That certainly changed over the final 20 minutes as the Bulls held the Wolverines to 36 percent shooting while out-rebounding them 23-18.
Alexis Yetna had 18 points and 10 rebounds, both game highs. David Collins had 17 points and a game-high five steals while Laquincy Rideau had 14 points.
“It’s a great feeling to play at home and play with the seniors,” said Collins on USF prolonging its season with the additional games at home. “We’re trying to extend it as long as we can.”