PREVIEW: Bulls look to bounce back against No. 21 Houston

David Collins has been a large factor in USF's turnaround season. The sophomore guard is averaging over 14 points per game through 17 games. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

When USF men’s basketball (12-5, 2-3) hosts No. 21 Houston (17-1, 4-1) on Saturday night at the Yuengling Center, it will hope to end a two-game losing streak and earn its first victory against a ranked opponent since 2012.

Despite losing three out of four games, coach Brian Gregory knows the team is on track to success and sustainability. He believes consistency and patience is crucial to chipping away at the leaders in the AAC.

“You don’t know when the breakthrough comes but you just have to keep, you know as they say, keep chopping the wood,” Gregory said. “The first hack on that piece of wood is as important as the one that breaks it in half.”

The Bulls’ five losses have been by a combined 19 points. Their largest defeat was eight points against Cincinnati last week. USF has shown that it can compete with the good teams atop the AAC — now the Bulls get their chance at the league’s top team.

“I think we are capable of beating any team and we are capable of losing to any team in this league,” Gregory said. “There is probably 10 other teams that can say the same thing. This league is much better than last year in my opinion.”

Gregory knows his team is not as experienced, but feels he has the backcourt to compete with any team in the AAC.

“I like our guard play against anybody,” Gregory said. “There is no question about that. Defensively we have to do a little better job of defending without fouling. We have to do a little better job of ball management in some critical situations, but we have built this team understanding that the best teams in this league have big, strong, veteran guards.”

With the growth and development of guards Laquincy Rideau and David Collins, Gregory sees the opportunity to use the athleticism of his backcourt to stymie the offensive skill-set of the Cougars, especially Houston guards Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks.

“That is pure individual talent,” Gregory said. “Laquincy and David are exceptional at it. So we have adjusted a little bit of our defensive philosophy to fit what they do best.”

Gregory knows Collins and Rideau still have room to grow and the aggressiveness the two play with should be done at the right moments in the game.

“The challenge for them [Rideau and Collins] is the maturation process of understanding when is the right time and when is the time that we need to be a little more solid,” Gregory said. “I think they have done a pretty good job of that and that’s just something that we need to keep getting better at.”

The Bulls and Cougars tip-off at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Yuengling Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.