A big home win over a major conference opponent when the Bulls beat Georgia in front of a large home crowd at the Sun Dome was a big step, but a win over a nationally-ranked opponent without the advantage of a home crowd could put the USF mens basketball team (5-2) in prime position before they enter a 13-day exam break.
The Bulls have shifted their focus to No. 23 Oklahoma State, who will welcome them to Stillwater for what coach Stan Heath is calling the teams biggest test yet.
Its probably our stiffest test so far this season, he said. Its been a long time since Ive been to Stillwater, and last time I remember they had the Graham twins and Jon Lucas and Tony Allen, so it wasnt a fun experience for me.
The Bulls will take on the Cowboys in a nationally televised contest on Wednesday evening, the teams final game before a break for semester exams and a chance to seize momentum.
The game against Oklahoma State on Wednesday at 9 p.m. comes with the team on a three-game winning streak, including back-to-back late game wins over Stetson and Georgia. With five victories, the Bulls are just two wins away from matching their non-conference win total from a year ago.
Its kind of good the way the schedule is, Heath said. Were getting better as a team, and now we get a chance to play a national ranked team, and then we have a nice little break right after.
USF could also enjoy the debut of one of its most anticipated new faces in Stillwater with sophomore guard Musa Abdul-Aleem preparing to return from injury.
The 6-foot-5 sharp shooter missed the first seven games of the season with an offseason foot injury, but was approved to return to practice. Heath said he will likely make his season debut against the Cowboys.
Hes just started practicing and I was surprised how he picked up things very quickly, he said. He kind of knew the offense. When hes not sure about the offense he shoots it anyway. I definitely see him getting some minutes if we can in this next game against Oklahoma State.
In his one season at Georgia Perimeter College, Abdul-Aleem led the team, making 43 three-pointers, and could provide the Bulls another consistent threat from behind the three point line along with seniors Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Shaun Noriega.
Heath said the team will use the two-week break for both academics and team evaluation.
The focus is on school and exams and allowing them to finish up the semester strong, he said. Its a great time to study ourselves and well kind of use it that way, and well maybe have a chance to fine tune and add some things too, finishing off non-conference and heading into conference play.
Though the team will have two weeks to evaluate the roster as a whole, Heath and the staff will likely focus on the production of new faces rather than the veterans who he said have been consistent.
Freshmen Zach LeDay, Jordan Omogbehin and junior transfer Kore White have been jockeying for position in the paint both literally and figuratively. The three big men have been rotating at the center spot in the starting lineup for USF.
The key for us is really Kore, Zach and Jordan, Heath said. Having one of those guys, or all three of those guys, to have productive days is very important. Id say if we could get those three guys to combine for 15 points and eight or nine rebounds, it would really help our team going forward.
The team faces a big opportunity to both prove itself and head into a lengthy break with momentum.
Its a very orange place, and theres a lot of people, so itll be a good experience for the guys, Heath said. If they can handle this environment, then they should really be able to handle any environment.
Collins, Williams honored by Big East
The point guards for both USF basketball teams were honored by the Big East for their respective performances last week.
Freshman point guard Courtney Williams of the womens basketball team was named Big East freshman of the week after averaging 14.5 points in wins over UNC-Asheville and North Florida to help the Bulls to a 6-0 start this season.
The 5-foot-8 Georgia native has started three straight games at point guard for the Bulls.
She finishes in transition and plays hard on both ends of the floor, coach Jose Fernandez said. She deserves the minutes that shes getting.
For the mens basketball team, a 17-point, 10-assist performance against Georgia helped sophomore point guard Anthony Collins earn a spot on the Big East weekly honor roll. It was Collins third straight double-digit assist game, and the sophomore is tied for second in the nation with 8.2 assists per game.
Ive been amazed with Anthony and how hes been able to play in the pain that hes in and be so productive on the court, Heath said. As he goes, thats pretty much going to be how our team goes. When hes playing well and hes running things and making things happen, which most of the times he does, its going to give us the best chance to win.