The Bulls came out strong, scored a bunch of points, faltered a bit and went into the locker room at halftime all knotted up.
When it comes to big games, specifically big second halves, the scenario Saturday seemed all too similar to a certain game nearly two years ago. The catch is, the game alluded to above wasn’t played on a football field in front of more than 70,000 home-team fans in Alabama. It wasn’t played on a football field at all.
In the intimate confines of the Sun Dome before its largest crowd in school history, the men’s basketball team squared off with No. 4 Florida in the Dodge Shootout on Dec. 8, 2001.
South Florida hype.
Should ring a bell.
But like Saturday — when the only modifications were Ronnie Banks filling the role of B.B.Waldon in the spotlight and the type of ball being used to play — the recipe ultimately spelled disaster for the Bulls.
In that basketball game, the Bulls entered the locker room at the half in almost a dead heat, trailing 38-37.
Dick Vitale was even there to tell the country a little bit about the Bulls during the halftime break.
Guard Reggie Kohn hit four of his six 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes of the game, but he didn’t score another point until only 4:35 remained in the game.
The Bulls fizzled.
Banks turned in a similar performance to Kohn’s, guiding the Bulls to 17 points in the first half, only to lose his flair in the second.
Perhaps the most noticeable sign of deterioration in the Florida game was the wearing down of the Bulls. Florida was stronger and fitter. It seemed the Bulls had used up the bulk of its energy in the first half, then they dragged in the second.
And Saturday was no different. The replays of Huey Whittaker’s phenomenal sideline catch, which surely would have made Isaac Newton scratch his head, and of Brian Fisher’s two touchdowns, soon turned into shot after shot of muscle-cramped Bulls being carted off the field.
Where the power of Gator standouts Matt Bonner and Udonis Haslem wore down the Bulls on the basketball court, Alabama’s offensive line pushed the Bulls’ comparatively scrawny defensive line down the field (Alabama’s offensive linemen outweighed the Bulls defensive linemen, on average, by 54 pounds).
So what does it take to win a big game with big hype on national TV? It’s going to take twice as much production in the first half if the Bulls plan to lie down in the second.
Or maybe better conditioning, although it’s hard to imagine how a team who basks in the often brutally hot temperatures of the Sunshine State could be gasping for air halfway through a game.
But it’s probably not as simple as running a few extra laps and tossing back a few extra gulps of Gatorade. The Bulls’ football team is still young. Maybe it’s that we expect too much of them. Heck, some optimists consider it to be the most successful college football team in history, judging by its wins per total games played during the past seven years.
As for the Bulls basketball team, only new head coach Robert McCullum knows whether his team is ready for a breakthrough this season. But its first chance to show the country what it can do doesn’t come until Feb. 26 when it takes on powerhouse Marquette at the Sun Dome on ESPN2.
The outlook for redemption is not too far away for the football team, though. While it should no doubt take out its anger against Nicholls State on Saturday, it need wait no longer than Oct. 10, when it will find itself on national TV again against TCU. This time, though, for the first time ever, the Bulls will be at home.
And maybe the crowd will be the force that keeps the Bulls out its early, 3rd-quarter grave.