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February 3, 2013

Preview: USF at Connecticut

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Losers of seven of their last eight, the USF Bulls head to Storrs on Sunday to face the Connecticut Huskies for another Big East matchup. Tip off is slated for 2:00 pm at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion.

The Bulls (10-10, 1-7) should be well rested. USF has had five days off, having not played since January 28th at Marquette, where the Bulls took a 63-50 loss. USF looks to avoid falling under the .500 mark for the first time since the Bulls' season opening loss to UCF on November 10th.

Connecticut (14-5, 4-3) is holding steady under first year head coach Kevin Ollie. The Huskies have won back-to-back games, most recently defeating the Providence Friars in overtime, 82-79, on Thursday night.

UConn goes into Sunday's game as one of the better scoring teams in the Big East, averaging 71.3 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the field. The Huskies have four players averaging in double-figures in points, led by junior Shabazz Napier (16.8 PPG) and sophomore Ryan Boatright (16.1 PPG).

USF has relied heavily on the play of its freshmen the last few games. First year players Zach LeDay and JaVontae Hawkins have led the Bulls in scoring in the last two games against Notre Dame and Marquette. In those two games, LeDay is averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 rebounds and Hawkins is averaging 12.5 points a game.

The emergence of the freshmen has been exciting for Bulls fans, giving them a look at what the future can hold for the program. The disappointing detail for fans is that, while the rookies have stepped up, the upperclassmen have fall into the background, suffering from inconsistent play. Senior Jawanza Poland, who led the team in scoring in three straight games before Notre Dame, has combined for just six points the past two contests. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, another senior, has scuffed in conference play, shooting just 21.4 percent from three and averaging 7.6 points per game. Redshirt junior and NBA hopeful Victor Rudd has had his moments in conference play, leading the team in scoring, but has gone through lulls in games where he seems uninvolved and lost. USF needs contributions from their veterans in order to win.

The Big East has an array of dynamic point guards, and this game includes a matchup that will surely be a pleasure to watch. Sophomore Anthony Collins and Napier are the keys to both offenses. Collins has been arguably the most consistent player for the Bulls this season, averaging a stellar seven assists per game. Napier is the Huskies leading scorer and is second on the team in assists.

This game is going to have the same recipe as every other for the Bulls. If USF wants to come out on top, rebounding is the going to be the most important thing. The Bulls struggle so mightily in on the boards, having been out-rebounded 303-202 in conference play.

Another key for USF is sustaining the lead. Against Notre Dame, USF took a seven-point lead into the half, but couldn't hang on in the second half. That's large in part due to the scoring droughts this offense goes through. Without a post presence, USF has put a lot of pressure on its perimeter shooters to knock down shots, something the Bulls have not been able to do late in games. Defensively, USF has been fantastic this year, holding six of their eight Big East opponents beneath their seasons scoring average. That statistic is all-and-good, but if USF cannot convert offensively, it makes the great defensive play an afterthought in a loss.

Tipoff from the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion is set for 2:00 pm. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN3 and 98.7 FM The Fan.



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