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Close to being special

It wasn’t anything monumental. It wasn’t anything extraordinary. And it definitely wasn’t a victory to savor for too long.

But USF’s 73-58 victory against Niagara on Tuesday night in the Sun Dome in front of a mere 335 people might have been a start toward something along one of those lines.

Seven wins. For most programs at this time of the year, that total might actually be too few. But for these Bulls, it’s a good beginning, especially since those seven wins came in just 13 games.

USF won just seven games all of last season. Time in and time out, those Bulls just continued to come up short. The post presence they thought they would have never really panned out. The team needed a go-to player, but one never materialized. Those Bulls played games that would be called ugly, and that understatement probably would have come from one of the players’ parents.

But times have changed.

These Bulls are scrappy. These Bulls are quick. These Bulls play like they want to win. These Bulls have something to play for.

And that is a far cry from last season.

“It’s an uphill climb for us,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “Last year was a different story.”

The difference seems to be attitude. After being picked to finish last in Conference USA this season, the Bulls entered the year with a chip on their shoulders.

“We’re really out to prove something to everybody,” senior guard Melissa Tape said. “That was our motto before the season.”

And through 13 games this season, the Bulls may be on their way to proving they belong.

They’ve got a legitimate post presence, probably the first real inside threat Fernandez has had in his tenure. To balance the new inside game is a pure scorer on the outside.

And both of those players are freshmen.

“Our go-to people are Jessica Dickson and Nalini Miller,” Fernandez said.

The Bulls also have two point guards who don’t mind passing the ball. Anedra Gilmore, who has national championship experience at the junior college level, is one; the other, Tape, is a scrappy little woman from down under.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a bench of capable players to back it all up.

“We’re to the point now where everybody understands their role here,” Fernandez said.

But now that the Bulls’ non-conference schedule is over, it’s time for the team to step up and live by their motto. Fourteen games remain on the schedule. The first two come on the road this weekend. One is against the defending conference champs.

“7-6 doesn’t really matter right now,” Tape said. “Now, we’re 0-0.”

And the Bulls feel there is a lot more to prove in those 14 remaining games. An even split and there may be some light at the other end, a light no previous team has ever seen. The lights heading to the show — the postseason show.

But it’s not time to get carried away just yet. And these Bulls know that.

At this time last season, it was pretty much a lost cause. This year the Bulls have something left to play for heading into the conference schedule. There are goals that can still be accomplished.

And these Bulls still have something to prove.

“It’s a long road,” Tape said.

But the Bulls finally look like they’re ready to travel with some authority.