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Bulls head to hostile north for a road test

Latest challenge comes at No. 18 Syracuse in raucous Carrier Dome.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2001

If the South Florida season is merely a series of tests designed to reveal if it deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament, and it is, then 7 p.m. today at Syracuse is Major Test No. 4.

The quality of opposition No. 18-ranked Syracuse (9-2) poses is uncertain considering the Orangemen's widely fluctuating results. The long trip to upstate New York to face the longtime Big East powerhouse, however, is sure to provide USF (7-1) with a dose of travel toughness.

Coach Seth Greenberg remembers venturing through inclement weather to the famed Carrier Dome when he was an assistant at Pittsburgh in the early 1980s.

"I played in the Carrier Dome when it was really an event. They'd (get) 37,000 people in there. They'd buy tickets behind the curtain," Greenberg said. "My first time we took our Pitt team to the Carrier Dome, it was a stone-cold blizzard and they had 26,000.

"It was a blizzard. And we're (saying), 'Who's going to go to this game?' And all of a sudden, the Dome Ranger is running, and that stupid Orange mascot is running around, and we're going, 'Holy mackerel.' ... It's a good place to play."

With a "capacity" of 33,000, Syracuse routinely drew 30,000-plus in the 1980s, when stars such as Pearl Washington and Derrick Coleman played for the Orangemen. The smallest Carrier Dome crowd this season exceeded 14,000, and Syracuse drew 20,150 Dec. 8 against North Carolina State.

Considering USF's solid road performance in winning the University Hoops Classic near Pittsburgh in November, the Bulls should be ready for the challenge of a top team and a large crowd.

USF has fared well in its first three "major tests." The Bulls aced the California exam Dec. 1, whipping the Golden Bears by 20. They earned a middling grade Dec. 8 in a 19-point loss to No. 4-ranked Florida. And they've earned a retroactive A for the 69-63 win Nov. 25 against Pittsburgh, a victory whose value has escalated with the Panthers' 9-1 start, including Wednesday night's victory at Ohio State.

Perhaps the biggest key tonight is which Syracuse team shows up. The Orangemen opened with nine consecutive wins, including triumphs over DePaul (74-60), Michigan State (69-58) and Wake Forest (74-67) in winning the Preseason NIT.

Legendary coach Jim Boeheim, in his 26th season at the school, has missed the past three games, however, after surgery for an enlarged prostate gland. He is expected to return Dec. 29. Longtime assistant Bernie Fine, who has been on Boeheim's staff his entire tenure, has filled in. Syracuse is 1-2 under Fine with two straight defeats, 82-68 Dec. 8 at home to North Carolina State and 96-80 Dec. 16 at Georgia Tech.

"They lost their leader, and nothing against Bernie ... but it's different. The hammer's gone," Greenberg said. "I would suspect that they would rally around (Fine) and be very much ready to attack us."

USF is coming off a 12-day break for exams after the 92-73 home loss to Florida in what was perhaps the most hyped game in team history. Greenberg said he expects a bit of rust. "There's going to be some slippage. That's just the way it is," Greenberg said. "But the good far outweighs the bad."

The Bulls, who departed Tampa on Tuesday, will have senior Mike Bernard available for the first time. Bernard served an NCAA-mandated eight-game suspension for having played in games with professional players in his native England. Greenberg said Bernard, Will McDonald and Gerrick Morris will play at center.

"Whoever's playing well will get the most minutes," Greenberg said.

Star forward/guard Altron Jackson will not start.

The team's leading scorer at 17.1 points a game will be on the bench for the opening tip because he walked off the court at the end of the Florida game without shaking hands.

Syracuse is led by 6-foot-6 senior All-America candidate Preston Shumpert. Shumpert, from Fort Walton Beach, was recruited by Greenberg and is averaging 22.5 points. Junior guard DeShaun Williams averages 20.9.

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