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College basketball

Run of the Bulls would be a first

USF looks to overcome its history of poor C-USA tournament performances.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 12, 2003

Stepping off the plane Monday in shivery Louisville gave the South Florida basketball team a jolt.

It also provided an ice box full of symbolism: USF has been chilly at the Conference USA tournament.

In C-USA's seven seasons, the Bulls have four wins in the league tournament, and they never have won two in the same season. No.10-seed USF (14-13, 7-9) is looking to buck that trend at 1 p.m. today against No.7 DePaul (16-11, 8-8).

"We don't go back and look at the history. We're worried about today," USF center Will McDonald said. "We just need to play harder, all the time.

"Right now we're playing for a different purpose. We definitely need to play with a sense of urgency."

USF's tournament deep-freeze has been thawing in recent years, with three wins the past four seasons and one in each of the past two.

Better news for the Bulls: It is not an away game but on a neutral court. USF has just one road win this season, DePaul has three.

"It's a neutral-court matchup, so it's an even matchup," USF senior point guard Reggie Kohn said. "Hopefully the team that wants it more will win, and that will be us."

The schools haven't played this season. The Blue Demons are one of three American Division teams the Bulls did not meet.

"It's an out-of-conference game," USF coach Seth Greenberg quipped. "It is a little bit different. It might be good in that you don't overanalyze it. We're just going to try to do what we do well."

The schools last played Jan.12, 2002, with USF winning 70-63 in Chicago. Ancient history to the Bulls.

"I don't even remember it," said Kohn, who leads C-USA with 6.3 assists a game.

DePaul is considered a likely NIT team with a longshot chance at the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls need their first multiwin C-USA tournament to have any chance at their third postseason trip in four years.

ESPN2 is televising the game, the first of four in today's opening round. Though it is out of synch with the customary evening times of the regular season, most teams prefer an early game at the conference tournament.

"It's better this way. We're not just sitting around all day and watching other games and losing focus," McDonald said.

Added Greenberg: "It sure beats playing the (9:30 p.m.) game."

Both teams have played well defensively. Under first-year coach Dave Leitao, DePaul's 41.2 field-goal percentage defense is the school's best in 30 years and its 63.8 points allowed is third-best in C-USA. USF, which switched from primarily man-to-man defense to zone midway through the season, leads C-USA in field-goal percentage defense at 39.9.

The Blue Demons' strength is inside with bullish 6-foot-9 junior Andre Brown (9.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and 6-9 senior Sam Hoskin (15.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who lost 40 pounds from last season. They have helped DePaul make a seven-win improvement.

"They're a very talented team, a talented group of athletes," Greenberg said.

Recent history indicates it could go down to the wire. USF's past three tournament openers were decided by an average of three points, and four years ago the Bulls opened with an overtime win vs. Memphis.

At Tuesday's practice, McDonald was particularly vocal and active. He and Kohn know each game could be their career finale.

"That's how we have to play, like this could be our last game and we don't want it to be," McDonald said. "We want to play all the way to (the championship game on) Saturday."

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