Heading into tonight’s road game against Conference USA foe Charlotte, the USF men’s basketball team is in a different situation than it has been in all of 2004. The Bulls are finally going into a game after a win.
And with that new scenario in place, the Bulls may have a different swagger to them heading into the Dale F. Halton Arena, where USF has won 11 of 23 previous meetings against the 49ers. But then again, maybe they won’t.
“(Our players) certainly feel better about themselves,” USF coach Robert McCullum said. “They’re confident, but I thought their confidence level was great even before winning. But any time you win, winning is important always, but perhaps now even more so because what it does, it helps to reinforce all those things — the areas of emphasis.”
One area of emphasis for the Bulls will certainly be incorporating junior Terrence Leather back into the game plan. McCullum said the Bulls’ leading scorer and rebounder will see action against Charlotte after sitting out USF’s 68-60 victory Friday against Southern Miss for missing class. However, McCullum did not say Leather would definitely retain his starting position for tonight’s game.
But with the Bulls’ first Conference USA win of the season, which assured the team wouldn’t become the first C-USA squad to go winless in league play, they can now play without hearing the media attention about the possibility of losing the rest of their games. However, McCullum didn’t believe all that attention necessarily affected his players.
“To be honest with you, I never really bought into that,” McCullum said. “You can’t look at a schedule and say this is a game you should win versus another. Anyone that follows a team sport would know that it doesn’t work that way (or) there wouldn’t be anything called an upset.”
However, an upset may be exactly what the Bulls have in store. More than halfway through conference play, it’s no secret that the Bulls are extremely short-handed, and that they haven’t been on the winning end of many close games this season. And for those reasons, the Bulls may be able to sneak up on their remaining opponents this season, perhaps even enough to make a run at the C-USA tournament.
“It’s hard to say,” McCullum said of the possibility of the 49ers overlooking his team. “Human nature, so to say, is that they might, and I don’t know, perhaps Cincinnati might have done that.
“(But) we certainly are not going to go up there banking on the fact that they might overlook us. We just have to be prepared.”
The preparation for the Bulls likely will focus on avoiding the scoreless droughts the team has struggled with many times this season. Should the Bulls be able to overcome the slow starts at the beginning of each half, they would put themselves in a better position to come out with their first road victory since beating Valparaiso on Nov. 25, which was the third game of the season.
And the facts back that point up. The Bulls played with the lead almost the entire game against Southern Miss Friday in the Sun Dome and broke a nine-game losing streak.
“Well, clearly we’ve felt that way all along,” McCullum said. “We’ve gotten off to poor starts at the beginning of games. We sometimes finish the last four minutes of the first half (and) we haven’t played well and (also) the first four minutes of the second half. It’s been those three periods (of time) we’ve played poorly.”