Bulls take on Utah Valley in second round of CBI

USF battled back from a 25-point deficit to defeat Stony Brook last week. Now the Bulls must get past Utah Valley on Monday to keep their season alive. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

After its record-breaking 25-point comeback win against Stony Brook on Wednesday, USF men’s basketball (20-13) continues its run in the College Basketball Invitational in the second round against Utah Valley (25-9) on Monday night at the Yuengling Center.

“Any time we can win in a tournament and advance, it feels good,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Our guys are in very very good spirits.”

Utah Valley enters Round 2 with a 92-84 win over Cal State-Northridge under its belt. Center Baylee Steele, who stands at 6 feet 11 inches, registered a double-double with 19 points and 16 rebounds and is a scoring threat at the post.

“They’re probably the best that I’ve seen at utilizing all the options off of ball screens,” Gregory said. “Their guards are very good at hitting the roam men … they got guys spaced out and you get sucked in, they’re gonna hit 3s on you. Very balanced offensively.”

The Wolverines also boast an exceptional defense, highlighted by guards TJ Washington and Ben Nakwaasah.

“They have two very, very good point guards … in [Washington] and [Nakwaasah],” Gregory said. “They’re good and they can really get into the ball.”

Utah Valley finished second in the Western Athletic Conference and made it to the semifinals of the WAC Tournament. Senior guard Conner Toolson was named to the all-tournament team and was one of four upperclassman starters against Cal State-Northridge.

The Wolverines’ veteran squad could prove to be a challenge for the Bulls’ relatively young team, with three of USF’s starters being underclassmen.

“The biggest challenge for us is where we were able, to be honest, play at times a little wilder on defense in our last game,” Gregory said. “You’re not going to be able to do that in this game because of their experience and because of the way they play.”

Gregory said the Bulls will need to place the emphasis on efficiency in their defensive strategy to accommodate for Utah Valley’s experienced shooters.

“We have to be super aggressive defensively but do it in a much more disciplined manner,” Gregory said. “You can’t leave your feet on shot fakes, you can’t get out of position off the ball … it's got to be a really disciplined chaos type of defense for us.”

With 20 wins behind them and a difficult test ahead, Gregory is confident that the Bulls have the grit and resilience to lift the trophy.

“We have a group that does fight and a group that does believe that until the final horn blows we got a chance to win the game,” Gregory said.