Since an impressive 75-51 victory against UCF on Jan. 15, the USF men’s basketball team has been on a bit of a slide with three consecutive losses and players in and out of COVID-19 protocols.
The Bulls (6-13, 1-6 AAC) will look to get back on track Thursday as they try to sweep the Knights (12-7, 4-5) for the first time since 2014 at Addition Financial Arena in Orlando.
Over the three-game losing streak, USF has had some of its worst performances of the season, losing each game by at least 19 points, culminating in a 76-45 loss to Tulsa on Jan. 29.
Before its matchup against the Bulls, Tulsa was winless in conference play riding a seven-game losing streak of its own. The 31-point margin of victory was the largest of its season.
Meanwhile, UCF has gone 2-2 since its ugly defeat at the Yuengling Center. The Knights had a pair of impressive come-from-behind victories against ECU and Tulane.
“If you look at the last four games that they played since we’ve played, they’ve had unbelievable comebacks in all four games,” coach Brian Gregory said. “They’re able to do that for two reasons. One, right away, they defensively cause havoc and offensively are ultra explosive.
“Anytime you have three guys in your starting lineup that can get 25 any night it’s a dynamic offensive team and that’s exactly what they have.”
Those three are guards Darin Green Jr., Darius Perry and Brandon Mahan who all average double-digit points for the Knights. Green leads the way at 13.3 points per game followed by Perry and Mahan at 11.1 and 10.3, respectively.
USF did a good job of containing UCF’s dynamic trio in the previous matchup, holding them to a combined 14 points and 5-of-23 shooting from the field.
Despite their poor recent run of form, the Bulls see Thursday’s matchup as an opportunity to create some momentum going into the final weeks of conference play.
Senior guard Javon Greene, who scored a season-high 19 points against the Knights, believes having success on the road against a rival brings nothing but positives.
“Playing a team like UCF, it reminds me of like VCU,” Greene, who is a transfer from George Mason, said. “Because George Mason and VCU are like a rivalry, and South Florida and UCF is a rivalry. So you go into those games and the record is 0-0, everything’s 0-0 and nothing matters besides this game and playing it.
“So that’s what we’re gonna go in with the mindset of having and come out with a win.”
Beginning with the game against UCF, the Bulls will enter one of the most congested portions of their schedule. They will play seven games in 19 days due to some rescheduling caused by postponements.
With the conference tournament and postseason play on the horizon, Greene and the rest of the team know the importance of proper rest leading up to such a crucial part of the season.
“We got to take care of our bodies around this time, it’s conference [play],” he said. “Every other day we’re playing a game, so make sure everybody takes care of their bodies.
“Also staying locked in, doing the right thing. Not always getting in the gym but watching film. Do other things to help elevate your game because, six games in 13 days, it’s a good little stretch, pretty much like an NBA schedule. So we got to take care of our bodies like professionals.”
The Bulls will meet the Knights on Thursday in a 7 p.m. tipoff streamed on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.