Bulls welcome No. 11 Houston on Thursday

USF is looking to win its first game against a ranked opponent since 2012 with No. 11 Houston coming to town Thursday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The Bulls (7-5, 3-3) will face their first ranked opponent of the season Thursday as they welcome No. 11 Houston (10-1, 5-1) to the Yuengling Center with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m.

USF has not had a win against a ranked opponent since taking down No. 19 Louisville in February 2012.

In order to change that, the Bulls must focus on containing the prolific backcourt that the Cougars boast.

“With [Marcus] Sasser, [Quentin] Grimes and [DeJon] Jarreau, [they’re] probably the most complete backcourt that we’ve faced all year long, and we’ve faced some pretty good ones,” coach Brian Gregory said Tuesday afternoon. “The reason I say that is because they can hurt you in a lot of different ways, and they just win.

“They’re great on the offensive glass, they can shoot the three and really hurt you in that way and they’re tremendous defensively.”

Grimes and Sasser lead the Cougars in points per game with 17.7 and 16.3, respectively. Jarreau comes in with 9.1 points per game and the trio pulls in a combined 15.2 rebounds on average per game.

Gregory also credited Houston’s culture as a reason for its success over the past few seasons.

“It’s a program that has an identity and a DNA,” he said. “So as important as the players are, and each one adds a little something different to them, their formula for winning hasn’t changed.”

The Cougars are 149-61 since the arrival of coach Kelvin Sampson, and 93-21 since the 2017-18 season. They also have two NCAA tournament appearances in 2018 and 2019.

Defense has been a strong suit for the Cougars and Gregory tabbed them as the best defensive team they’ve played all year.

“The numbers prove it, the success proves it, but maybe more importantly the consistency proves it,” Gregory said. “There’s times where some other teams we played have been tremendous defensively, but the difference with Houston is they’re that way every game, every single game. That’s what makes them so dominant on the defensive end.”

Freshman guard Caleb Murphy, who has been nursing a hip pointer, could help the Bulls deal with Houston’s defensive tenacity. Gregory said Murphy will be ready for Thursday’s contest.

“He’s good, he’s fine now,” Gregory said. “Last week he was banged up a little bit, struggled a little bit on lateral movement on Saturday, but with a full day of treatment Sunday and yesterday, he’s good to go. He’ll be able to go full the next couple days and be ready for Thursday.”

The Bulls and Cougars tip off Thursday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.