Bulls ready for High Point

After the first road trip of the season ended in a 77-75 loss to Virginia, the South Florida men’s basketball team returns to the Sun Dome tonight, hosting High Point at 7 and looking to put the memory of a tough loss behind it.

“(High Point) is going to give us some matchup problems,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “They have a small lineup. They run four guards, and all of them can shoot and score.”

The Bulls’ three starting guards — sophomore Dominique Jones, junior Chris Howard and senior Jesus Verdejo — are averaging more than 10 points per game, with Verdejo leading the Bulls with 20.

Heath said Verdejo — who averaged 10.7 points per game last year — worked hard during the offseason, and the Bulls are reaping the benefits.

“It really isn’t a surprise to us,” Heath said. “He’s stepped up. We had a big void to fill with (former USF center) Kentrell Gransberry leaving, and he’s certainly done a lot to help fill that void for us.”

Gransberry was second on the team with 17 points per game and led the Big East with 10.8 rebounds per game in 2007.

Heath also said Howard has shown a lot of improvement. Howard averaged 8.4 points per game last year but has stepped up his scoring early this season.

“That was a premium that we placed on him over the summer,” Heath said. “We told him that if he had open shots, he had to take them. So far, he’s been consistent and one of our most aggressive players.”

Heath said the Bulls need a strong presence in the paint, but will likely be without one of the better post players on the team.

Forward Alex Rivas Sanchez — who scored 11 points and had nine rebounds against the Cavaliers on Wednesday — sprained his ankle late in the second half. Heath listed him as doubtful.

Howard has been impressed by the junior’s progress after recovering from offseason surgery to put metal rods in both of his legs.

“He’s a guy that can definitely average a double-double in the Big East when he’s healthy,” Howard said. “He has the ability to be a starter, and we’re going to need him when he gets healthy.”