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February 26, 2013

USF takes on Rutgers

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The USF Bulls (19-7, 8-5) look to solidify their NCAA Tournament resume on the road tonight against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

USF is currently enjoying a streak that has seen its squad win four in a row in opponent's arenas, and has received national attention after beating two Top 25 teams in the span of four days. The Bulls are five games back of first in the Big East standings, but are only one game back of St. John's (15-10, 9-4) fifth place position.

Rutgers (14-12, 5-8) is looking to snap a four-game winless streak and jump ahead of Georgetown (14-12, 5-8) in the Big East standings

. This is the only time these two squads will meet this season.

Three Keys to the Game

  • Focus on offense. Against a Rutgers team that is averaging just 56.1 points per game, it would be easy to write this game off as an easy win for a Bulls offense that is averaging 71.9 points per game and is ranked 23rd in the nation. However, Rutgers can make impressive stops, and scoring may not come as easily as USF might think. The Bulls will need to continue their impressive offensive efforts to secure a win here.

  • Ride that momentum. The Bulls have had a few win streaks this season, but none can compare to one that includes back-to-back wins over ranked teams. USF should be confident in its ability to compete every game after shutting down Louisville and Syracuse, while Rutgers is undoubtedly feeling shaky right now after a string of losses.

  • Take things "one game at a time". Coach Jose Fernandez has preached it for weeks, and it's gotten USF into the tournament conversation. This will continue to be key as the Bulls finish out the season.

    The Matchup

    Rutgers is currently riding a four-game losing streak, including losses in back-to-back contests against ranked squads (No. 3 UConn and No. 21 Syracuse) earlier this month. In three of their last four games, the Scarlet Knights have failed to get above the 50-point mark; this note is reflective of an offense that is ranked in the bottom 20 percent of NCAA Division I teams. This season's Rutgers squad struggles in a variety of areas including turnovers per game (307th with an average of 20) and personal fouls per game (294th with an 18.1 average). However, it is worth noting that this Scarlet Knights team has pulled off an upset or two this season, most notably against then No. 21 Miami back in December.

    The Bulls are riding the momentum that comes from winning back-to-back games against ranked opponents (No. 12 Louisville and No. 21 Syracuse), and have reaped the rewards thus far. Winning five of its last six contests, USF received a 19-spot boost in the RPI ranking, moving from the 77 spot to the 58 spot. Still, the team did not receive the Top 25 ranking it hoped it might after becoming one of 17 teams in the nation to beat multiple ranked teams this season. A win over Rutgers will certainly help in USF's quest for its first Top 25 ranking in school history, and it is a win that should certainly happen; however, one can never count out a team such as Rutgers, who is playing purely for pride.

    Players to Watch

    The Bulls are getting outstanding production from each of their starters right now. Both Andrea Smith and Andrell Smith were in the double-digits in points scored against Syracuse. Andrea Smith has had a combined 53 points for USF in its last two contests, and was named Big East Player of the Week on Monday due to her impressive play. The team is also getting help from its bench, with freshman guard Courtney Williams and senior center Caitlin Rowe contributing a combined 16 points in USF's win over Syracuse. The Bulls have multiple threats on their team, and which player will stand out the most in any given game is anybody's guess.

    Many of the Scarlet Knights' problems this season stem from the fact that the squad does not possess a true scorer. Rutgers does not have any individual player ranked in the points per game, rebounds per game, or assists per game statistical categories. Junior guard Erica Wheeler is solid on defense, ranked 44th in the nation in steals per game; center Monique Oliver also contributes to the defense by blocking shots. Other than that, whatever positive things the Scarlet Knights are able to generate are the product of little individual efforts, meaning that there isn't so much a "player to watch" but rather a "team to watch".

    The game can be heard on 1010 AM as well as on BullsCast on GoUSFBulls.com



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