Minutes after South Florida’s 80-58 victory over DePaul on Saturday, sophomore guard Dominique Jones sat in the locker room with a determined look on his face. He chose not to celebrate.
“I just told myself to put the win out of my mind,” Jones said. “We won, and I was happy, but I knew Pittsburgh was next.”
Jones and the rest of the Bulls will get a chance to knock off the top-ranked Panthers tonight at 7 in front of a national audience on ESPNU.
The Bulls are up against a 15-0 Pittsburgh team that’s coming off a 90-67 win over St. John’s on Sunday.
“The thing that impresses me the most is the rebounding, the defense and (Pittsburgh’s) ability to take care of the basketball,” coach Stan Heath said. “Those are the foundations that championship teams are built on. That’s something I’d like to make a blueprint of for our program as we move forward.”
In Pitt’s case, its “foundations” are built upon three pillars: seniors Levance Fields and Sam Young and sophomore DeJuan Blair.
Together, they combine for 56 percent of Pittsburgh’sscoring. Blair, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound forward, is third in the nation in rebounds, averaging 12.6 per game. Fields, a 5-foot-10 guard, is second in the country with a 100-23 assist-turnover ratio.
“It is picking your poison,” Heath said. “(Young) is such a difficult matchup, and (Fields) could have six points but drop 15 assists and be the best player on the floor. Blair is just one of those unique guys who has so much strength.”
Heath said he’s not expecting his players to shut down Blair, Young and Fields.
“It’s going to be more of slowing those guys down, rather than stopping them,” he said. “No one can really stop them.”
The Bulls, led by Jones’ 17 points per game, turned around their free-throw shooting woe’s with a 13-of-15 effort against DePaul. USF is shooting 58 percent from the line this season, but Jones said the team is gaining confidence.
The Bulls are in the middle of a three-game road stretch that will end at West Virginia on Saturday. Junior guard Chris Howard said he hopes this stretch will bring the team together.
“When we’re on the road, we go in there with the mind-set that it’s us against the world,” Howard said. “It’s a war. It’s going to be sold out, but if we have the right mindset to stick together, we’ll be fine.”
As USF prepares to face its third top-ranked team in program history, Heath is attempting to pull off a major upset.
“We have to play to win,” he said. “I don’t want our players ever going into a game not expecting to win. We have to expect that anything can happen.”