Final tuneup

Though it may not count in the record books, tonight’s exhibition between the South Florida men’s basketball team and the University of Tampa is important to coach Stan Heath.

“These games mean a lot because they help our guys build confidence going into the regular season,” he said. “It helps the guys to get out there and play someone other than themselves.”

In their first exhibition, the Bulls beat West Florida by 39 points, winning 80-41. The starters helped USF to an early lead — a lead it kept until the end.

Sophomore guard Dominique Jones, who led all scorers with 26 points, said building confidence is important heading into the regular season.

Senior guard Jesus Verdejo echoed his teammate’s feelings.

“When you win early, it gives you a lot of momentum going into the season,” he said. “We know these are games we should win by double-digits, but we have to go out there and actually win.”

Heath cautioned the Bulls about taking teams too lightly during the exhibition season.

“You look at teams like Ohio State, or my old team Michigan State, and they got upset in their exhibitions last season,” he said. “If we don’t take these games seriously, we could end up getting upset too.”

One new player hoping to guide the Bulls to a perfect exhibition record is freshman forward Eladio Espinosa.

Espinosa impressed coaches and teammates so much during the offseason that he is now a starter.

“Eladio is a great player,” Jones said. “He plays above the rim, and that’s something we didn’t have last year.”

Espinosa scored 11 points against the UT Argonauts, including three dunks.

USF received good news Wednesday when Gus Gilchrist was granted a hardship waiver, making him eligible to play this season. He transferred from Maryland but did not lose a year of eligibility because of the waiver.

When he starts play Dec. 14, he will bring depth to USF’s frontcourt.

Heath said the addition of Gilchrist is huge, especially since USF has only two healthy centers and both were in foul trouble.

B.J. Ajayi fouled out in the second half, and Aris Williams had four fouls against him.

“Our frontcourt depth was a huge concern,” Heath said.  “Now, we have some depth.”