Fans impress in big win for USF
Published: Monday, December 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, December 3, 2012 08:12
This isn’t the same old Sun Dome, nor the same old crowd.
Appropriately, this also isn’t the same old men’s basketball team.
For the first time in the 2012 season, the crowd at the USF Sun Dome got a chance to involve itself in a game against a major opponent for 40 full minutes — and did it ever.
Big dunks, winding layups, game changing three-pointers and huge defensive stops were met by crowd approval and standing ovations during timeouts.
The Bulls (5-2) rode a home court advantage unlike any other to a 64-53 win over Georgia.
The win was especially significant when last season is taken into consideration. Though the Bulls managed to break into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992, their performance in winnable non-conference games nearly left them on the outside looking in.
Unlike last season, this year’s squad seized its second opportunity for a resume building victory — missing their first opportunity in an opening night blowout loss to UCF — and has the chance for another when it goes on the road to take on No. 15 Oklahoma State on Wednesday.
While the Bulls built their tournament resume last season with their strong performances at home, going 14-2 in home games to counter an 8-12 record away from home, playing games at the University of Tampa and the Tampa Bay Times Forum hindered the potential for a strong home court advantage.
The Bulls have no such worry while playing at the newly renovated USF Sun Dome.
Friday night’s announced crowd of 5,167 was well above last season’s average of 3,849, and though it was against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference — one of the so-called Big Six conferences — it was not one of the marquee games on the schedule for USF when its Big East schedule is considered.
USF will host No. 6 Syracuse to open the conference season in January, along with home games against No. 20 Georgetown and No. 5 Louisville.
If the team can draw large crowds for games against middle-of-the-pack major conference teams, the turnout for games against nationally recognized opponents has vast potential.
Given the struggles of the football team, the fan base is desperate for a team to cheer for, to support in a big game against a ranked opponent in which the home team has a chance for a big win.
Last season, the Bulls returned home from a win over then-No. 18 Lousiville, getting a signature win that greatly increased their chance for an NCAA Tournament berth. USF’s final home game was against West
Virginia, another bubble team, and a victory would all but stamp the team’s ticket to the tournament.
An announced crowd of 9,737 packed the Tampa Bay Times Forum in full support of the Bulls. Local professional sports teams recorded video messages in support of the Bulls’ run to March Madness.
Though the team lost the game, it was evident that the community as a whole was looking for a contending USF team to support.
A season later, the Bulls are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament with a roster full of new faces and a fast-paced offense that is more marketable to casual fans. With team success on its side, Friday night’s home court advantage could be just the beginning of a special season for the team and its fans.