Cousins and company put an emphasis on shot-blocking

Senior center Jaleel Cousins ranks 72nd in Division-I with 1.8 blotcked shots per game. USF currently ranks 9th as a whole, giving them something to feel good about in an otherwise dissapointing season. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

When a player enters the paint, Jaleel Cousins has two options: block the shot or be put on a poster.

More often than not, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound center wins.

In a season that has shown promise, but few results, USF (3-16, 0-6) has thrived in shot-blocking, ranking ninth among the 351 Division I schools.

“I just let it come to me,” said the Alabama native. “I don’t necessarily go into the game saying, ‘I’m going to go block shots,’ but if the opportunity is there, I’m definitely going to take it.”

Cousins’ size and strength allows him to muscle his way around defensively, but his senior form is a stark contrast to the player fans saw a season ago.

Shedding 10 pounds has allowed Cousins to gain more mobility, which he said limited him last year. The results speak for themselves.

He’s more than doubled his blocks from 2015 and quadrupled his rebounds and points. In his last outing – Saturday’s 71-56 loss to Memphis – Cousins led the team with four blocks and a season-high 16 rebounds.

More minutes have also contributed to this improvement, but USF coach Orlando Antigua said it mostly came down to him slowing the game down and taking note of what his coaches were telling him.

 “It all came from him buying into to all of the things we were saying to try and help him improve on,” Antigua said. “Slowing down on offense and defensively moving his feet and being in a position so he can contest shots and block shots, and you see the results that are drastically different from last year.”

Blocks are one area Antigua can hold his head high. Cousins isn’t the only person joining the block party.

Redshirt sophomore Bo Zeigler is right behind him at a shade over a block per game. Zeigler joins sophomore Ruben Guerrero as part of three USF players in the top 13 shot blockers in the AAC.

“I like to look at the guy’s eyes,” Zeigler said. “A lot of guys like to use pump fakes, and usually after they use the first pump fake they go up off the second one, so I just try to time it on its way up.”

But the Bulls don’t look to send the ball into the 10th row of the student section, as nice as that looks. Instead, Cousins tries to pin it against the backboard, allowing his team to push the ball up the floor.

On Jan. 2 in a game against Southern Methodist University, Zeigler was able to benefit from a controlled rejection. After freshman center Angel Nunez swatted the ball out of SMU’s Justin Tolbert’s hand, Zeigler hustled down the floor finishing the sequence with a posterizing putback.

“The blocks lead to extra possessions,” Antigua said. “When the bigs are producing, then they draw so much attention with their size, and that allows for the guards to be open more for drives or kick outs.”

Blocks don’t just provide energy for the Bulls, but suck energy out of the opponent.

“It brings a lot of energy because it kind of takes energy away from the other team,” Cousins said. “If you try to go hard and you get it swatted out of the air, you’re just like, ‘dang,’ and the other team is moving the ball the other way. It can give your team a lot of momentum.”

—Follow on Twitter @JacobHoagUSF