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USF looks to become conference leader against Charlotte: ‘They’re a lot like us’

Senior guard Chris Youngblood attempting a layup against Alabama State on Dec. 29. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

This is more than a hot stretch. It’s a culture shift.

After starting the season 2-4, USF men’s basketball has won 13 of their last 14 games. They’ve also won seven straight conference games. It is their longest conference-winning streak in program history. 

Bulls coach Amir Abdur-Rahim said their turnaround stemmed from their 66-56 loss to UMass on Dec.2. 

“Either we could have folded and got punched in the mouth and punked at UMass – a very good UMass team – or we were gonna come together, compete and fight as we did,” Abdur-Rahim said in a press conference on Monday. “And so they realized if we fight together and take coaching, we got a chance to be pretty good.“

Related: Bulls showing signs of improvement under Amir Abdur-Rahim 

The Bulls will look to carry this momentum into their matchup against Charlotte, the defending College Basketball Invitational champions, on Tuesday.

For junior guard Selton Miguel, one of three returners from last season, the Bulls’ turnaround is a testament to how well the team has gelled. 

“We know college basketball is not easy to win,” Miguel said in a press conference on Monday. “We could have definitely split it up and everybody goes their own way. But at the same time, we needed those losses to come together.” 

The Bulls have a few similarities with the 49ers, Abdur-Rahim said.

“When you watch them, you can tell they’ve played together for a while because of how it all moves,” Abdur-Rahim said. “They know where each guy wants to ball, their sweet spot, and so on and so forth. They’re a lot like us. “

The 49ers have four players averaging double-digit points this season compared to the Bulls’ three. Charlotte also leads the conference with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.43. USF has a ratio of 1.36 which ranks third in the American. 

Bulls senior guard Chris Youngblood said the team’s balanced scoring has been key to its success during this stretch.

“That is one of the biggest things that makes us so dangerous,” Youngblood said. “You can’t just stop one person, you gotta worry about everybody.”

Related: Pryor leads Bulls’ second-half comeback against Rice 

These similarities aren’t just limited to their on-the-court play.

Like USF, Charlotte has been on a winning streak of their own. The 49ers have won their last eight consecutive games. 

They also beat a ranked opponent, then-No. 17 FAU, on Jan. 5. The Bulls completed a 20-point comeback against then-ranked No. 10 Memphis on Jan. 18

But perhaps most importantly, the Bulls and 49ers are tied with the Owls for first place in the American Athletic Conference. 

Related: ‘This ain’t the same old South Florida’: USF basketball first-week impressions 

Before the season began, neither team was expected to be successful in the AAC. USF ranked ninth and Charlotte placed last in the preseason poll.  

A win would move the Bulls to sole first place in the American. But for Youngblood, reaching the top of the conference in February isn’t the main goal – it’s to remain an elite team throughout the season.

“This is cool and all, but it’s just not the end goal, at all,” Youngblood said. “Nowhere close to it.”