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Bulls look to stay out of basement

MEN’S BASKETBALL GAME TIMESt. John’s (7-12, 1-7) at USF (10-11, 1-7)When: Sat., 7 p.m.Where: Sun DomeTV/Radio: Catch 47/1250 AM

At the halfway point of conference play, the Big East has three teams in the nation’s Top 25 and five teams in the Top 35. After eight Big East games, the Bulls (10-11, 1-7) are tied with St. John’s for last in the conference. Saturday’s game against the Red Storm will determine who is the best of the worst in the conference.

“We all use those terms: must win, back’s against the wall. We can call it whatever we want but we need this win,” Bulls coach Stan Heath said. “This is a very important game for us.”

An eighth straight Big East loss would establish the Bulls’ longest conference losing streak since the 2005-2006 season – USF’s first in the Big East. That year, USF lost its first 15 games before defeating Georgetown 63-56 in the season finale.

A huge concern for the Bulls going into the second half of their conference schedule is their lack of depth.

The Bulls have gotten little production out of their reserves this season. USF is averaging 71.4 points per game, with bench players only contributing 13.1 points per game.

Another concern is the reliability of the team’s bench players. Only sophomore guard Solomon Bozeman (18.8) averages more than 15 minutes on the floor per game.

Injuries are adding problems to an already weak bench. USF has four players listed as questionable for Saturday’s game.

“I am concerned right now because we are a little banged up,” Heath said. “Right now, three of my perimeter guys (Bozeman, junior guard Jesus Verdejo, and freshman guard Aaron Holmes) are questionable. I think we will have them all available for the game, but it’s a huge concern right now because our depth right now is very questionable.”

With a rash of injuries and an inconsistent bench, the Bulls will rely more on senior center Kentrell Gransberry and freshman guard Dominique Jones to provide a spark.

Gransberry continues to lead the Big East with 11.1 rebounds per game to go with his team-leading 17 points per game. Jones is second on the team in both points per game (15.4) and rebounds per game (4.8).

“I’ve been pleased with the leadership of Gransberry,” Heath said. “I can’t say enough for a guy like Kentrell. He’s playing some of his best basketball right now, and Dominique is playing well.”

Despite playing a team with a 7-12 overall record, Heath is still showing St. John’s a lot of respect.

“St. John’s is a team that is very young. They have a great player in Anthony Mason, who had back-to-back 29-point games before his Georgetown game,” Heath said. “They’re a team that plays very hard on the defensive end but, like us, has had ups and downs. When their offense gets going, their defense struggles, and when their defense gets going their offense struggles. So it should be an interesting game.”

Even with a seven-game losing streak, Heath wants to make sure his team doesn’t dwell on losing.

“We’ve just got to continue to turn the page,” Heath said. “I don’t want, ever, our team to accept a loss, or feel comfortable with losing. It’s not fun. It’s not enjoyable. All you need to do is get one underneath your belt.”