The USF men’s basketball team will play Houston Saturday for the second time this season. The Bulls, however, hope that the Cougars will see a different team this time around.
When the two teams faced off Jan. 31 at the Sun Dome for a 65-53 Houston victory, the Bulls shot a season-low 28 percent.
“We need to shoot the ball better,” USF coach Robert McCullum said. “We shot 21 percent in the first half, and you aren’t going to beat people shooting the ball that poorly.”
During the four games leading up to the first Houston game, the Bulls were losing by an average of 28 points per game. During the six games since then, the Bulls have shown improvement, going 1-5 and losing by an average of just seven points per game.
“Houston was the first game after three consecutive road games,” McCullum said. “At that point we were still searching for ourselves.”
The Bulls had tough times at the end of January, losing James Holmes to a likely season-ending injury, leaving only six active scholarship players. The Bulls are still without Holmes, who is injured with a stress fracture in his left foot. It is still unknown if he will play again this season.
“We thought we would have James Holmes after he played well against Memphis,” McCullum said. “We’ve been told (Holmes will) hopefully (return) for the last two games realistically, for UAB and DePaul.
“Gerrick Morris wasn’t playing well, and we moved Brandon Brigman to the starting lineup. We played Terrence Leather at the three spot some, and he hadn’t adjusted on offense and defense. It didn’t allow us to execute as well as we can execute.”
The Bulls have now ironed out their primary roster with the seven players that have been getting most of the minutes as well as their starting lineup, which includes senior walk-on Brian Graham.
“Our chemistry is a lot better,” McCullum said. “Guys have enhanced roles and have continuity with each other that they didn’t have.”
The Bulls now have a go-to scorer in Leather, who is netting a team leading 14.7 points per game, and are getting support from Brian Swift and Bradley Mosley as well as a strong defensive presence by Morris.
The Bulls will have to overcome the presence of Anwar Ferguson, Houston’s own shot blocker, who swatted four shots in the win against USF.
“Shot blocking set the tone early in the game,” McCullum said. “We weren’t as aggressive taking the ball to the basket.”