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College basketball

Hot home team or hot team?

USF, 12-1 in Tampa, must beat Memphis, winner of five in a row.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2003

TAMPA -- It all depends on your perspective.

From South Florida's view, it has been virtually invincible at home this season, winning 12 of 13 and it beat Memphis in Memphis a month ago. Thus, USF must have the edge in tonight's game at the Sun Dome.

Look at it from another angle, however, and ... Memphis is 17-5 and has won six in a row, most recently 80-73 Wednesday at No. 4-ranked Louisville.

So who has the edge?

"It depends on how you want to spin it," USF coach Seth Greenberg said. "You can create any scenario you want. (Memphis coach) John Calipari is spinning it as 'a revenge game. We're playing the best basketball we've played all year. We just beat Louisville. We've got momentum.'

"We're thinking, 'We're 12-1 at home. It's an important game (in the Conference USA standings). It all depends on how you spin it."

There is support for both sides, which, combined with the stakes -- USF (13-10, 6-6) can stay alive in the National division, Memphis (8-3) can all but clinch the division -- and national audience on ESPN makes it, arguably, the Bulls' biggest game of the season.

"Memphis is a Top 15 team. It's a joke they haven't been in the Top 20," Greenberg said. "Their win over Louisville only enhances the significance of (this game)."

"We have to win this one," USF point guard Reggie Kohn said. "But we also have to win the (final three games)."

USF's 75-74 victory Jan. 18 at Memphis is its lone road victory of the season, and it is a major source of confidence. The Tigers, however, were playing without junior point guard Antonio Burks, whose swift ball-handling and lockdown defense have elevated Memphis in recent weeks.

"He's very fast with and without the ball," Kohn said. "He runs their team. They just play better with him out there."

Added Greenberg, "Burks is as fast with the basketball as any player we play against this year. He's experienced. He's strong. He's tough. He's fast. You can't simulate his speed."

Burks was a one-man press break at Louisville, and on Feb. 13 at Tulane, his late defense helped preserve a 58-57 victory.

The Tigers are getting production from many others, notably brutish power forward Chris Massie (16.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game), who has a double double in five consecutive games.

USF center Will McDonald, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, is playing his second game with a broken right (shooting) hand. He reaggravated the injury during halftime warmups of last week's victory against Houston and is playing with it heavily taped.

The game is a must-win if USF hopes to stay alive for the division title. It also would be a major boost to its NIT hopes.

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