USF looks to extend streak
TAMPA - There is no better cure for a team's psyche than a few wins. After losing at home to West Virginia on Jan. 13 - dropping USF to 0-4 in the Big East - the heart and soul of the Bulls, junior guard Dominique Jones, voiced frustration at the lack of support his teammates provided. Fast forward to Thursday following USF's overtime win against Seton Hall, marking the first time in USF's five seasons in the Big East the Bulls won back-to-back league games. On what turned out to be the game-winning possession, the heavily guarded Jones called for the ball relentlessly before clearing out of the lane. That allowed senior Chris Howard to beat Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell off the dribble and to the basket, scoring the decisive basket with 38.6 seconds left in overtime.Afterward, all was good for a USF team seeking to extend its winning streak to three this afternoon against Pittsburgh at the Sun Dome. "I don't know what I would do without him," said Jones, third in the Big East in scoring at 21.4 points per game. "I told him that on the court. When he made the layup, I just felt so good." Howard's response: "What would you do without me, I love you, too." Since that 69-50 loss to the Mountaineers, USF has won three of four and can match the school record for conference wins since joining the Big East with one more league win. While no one is ready to say the Bulls have joined the Big East's upper tier, their recent play - a stretch that has not included injured forward Gus Gilchrist - has at least turned up the volume at the Sun Dome. A 109-105 overtime win at Providence eight days ago behind Jones' school-record 46 points has created some rare late-season excitement. "A game like that I think does a lot for your team in terms of confidence, enthusiasm and things like that," USF coach Stan Heath said. The Bulls hope to get Gilchrist back for Wednesday's game at Georgetown. Gilchrist was leading the team in scoring (18.8) when he suffered a severely sprained ankle Dec. 7 in practice. In his absence, the Bulls have gone 5-6 with Jones playing the leading role. The return of the 6-foot-10 Gilchrist, who can score inside and on the perimeter, provides Heath with more options and hope that the Bulls can be more than a pushover for the rest of the Big East in the season's final month. "My first couple of years, it was no secret that we had to get the talent level necessary to really compete in this league," Heath said. "We still may not have the entire roster, the entire depth ... but when we're healthy, we can put six, seven guys out there who can win games in this league. "It's a good basketball team," he said. "I've said that from the beginning." The Bulls have another chance to prove it today against the 17th-ranked Panthers.