Bulls see Charlotte, which beat them last season, as a springboard to a strong finish.
By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 1, 2003
It would be melodramatic to say Charlotte ruined South Florida's season last year, but in one gut-twisting, midseason loss to the 49ers, the Bulls had the NCAA Tournament wind sucked from their sails, replaced by a gust of NIT.
USF had a 12-4 record and led the 49ers by seven on Jan. 18, 2002 with fewer than four minutes to go at the Sun Dome. Charlotte, however, made some deep 3-pointers to rally 81-78.
The 49ers made the NCAAs. USF finished 7-8 and went to the NIT.
The Bulls want history to repeat itself today -- in reverse. USF (9-8, 2-4) hosts Charlotte (8-9, 3-3) at noon, and the Bulls are looking to launch a strong finishing stretch.
"We've got three in a row at home and 10 to go. I really believe we're going to put something together," USF senior point guard Reggie Kohn said. "We're playing well, regardless of what people may think. As soon as the breaks start going our way, we're going to get on a roll."
USF has lost two straight heartbreakers, in double overtime at East Carolina while playing without suspended center Will McDonald, and 59-57 Saturday at Houston.
"We're three plays away from being 12-5," USF coach Seth Greenberg said, adding a buzzer-beater 69-68 loss Dec. 14 at Wright State. "And then everyone thinks we're geniuses."
The Bulls rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to take the lead late against Houston but faltered in the final minute. They were 2-of-11 on free throws and didn't get off a shot on their final two possessions.
"It's the little things. A little thing here, a little thing there," Kohn said. "There's only so much you can do in practice (for end-of-game situations). We work on them, but you never know what you're going to come across in the game. You just have to react."
USF is looking at a favorable final 10 regular-season games, with seven or eight wins a realistic goal. Six of 10 are at the Sun Dome, and none are against perennial league champion Cincinnati or rampaging Louisville. The best remaining opponent, Memphis, comes to the Sun Dome.
A hot streak is there for the taking.
"We're not that far away from being very good," Greenberg said. "We've just got to grind through it."
Seven more wins would make the Bulls 16-11, 9-7 in C-USA and a solid candidate for the NIT heading into the C-USA tournament. Anything less and USF likely would need an upset in the league tournament for a postseason bid.
Getting Kohn's shooting back on track is vital. He did not score at Houston and has made 2 of 23 shots the past two games. His shooting percentage has dropped from 45.9 to 38.7, and his 3-point percentage from 47.9 to 42.5.
McDonald, USF's leading scorer and rebounder, will play his second game since he was arrested Jan. 24 on a felony and misdemeanor charge stemming from "a verbal argument which became violent" with an ex-girlfriend. USF sports information director John Gerdes said he knows of no precedent at the school for an athlete with a pending felony charge participating in a game. The State Attorney's Office said Friday a filing decision has not been made.
Athletic director Lee Roy Selmon on Monday cleared McDonald to play.
"Based on the additional information that's been brought to my attention, I'm led to believe a suspension at this time is unwarranted," Selmon said.