TAMPA — Home-court disadvantage?
Maybe that’s harsh. But the University of South Florida Bulls have not enjoyed a performance spike since the Sun Dome reopened following a $35.6 million renovation.
USF’s two-season home record: 17-16.
If the Bulls (12-15, 3-11 American Athletic Conference) fail to upset the Connecticut Huskies (21-6, 9-5) tonight, that mark will slip to .500.
“We don’t know (why the home record hasn’t been better) to be honest,’’ Bulls senior forward Victor Rudd said. “We’ve been trying to figure it out for a while. We’ve played better on the road two years in a row.
“You’ve got to be together on the road. You’ve got to be one team and get rid of all the distractions. I don’t know why it’s different from (home), but it’s different.’’
And it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
In the 2011-12 season, when USF earned the third NCAA tournament bid in program history, the Bulls finished 14-2 at the Forum, their home-away-from-home in downtown Tampa.
When the new Sun Dome was ready for play, USF coach Stan Heath predicted great things.
“It’s now our job to protect it, to make it the most difficult place to play in the country,’’ Heath said then. “If we play the right way and keep the energy in the building, it should be an unbelievable home-court experience.’’
So what happened?
Clearly, USF has been defeated by some formidable competition, such as Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame, Villanova, Marquette, Memphis, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State.
But during that two-season stretch, the Bulls also were defeated at home by the likes of Western Michigan and Detroit, while also suffering an 18-point blowout at the hands of UCF in the new building’s inaugural game.
“When you have a team that’s built around defense, you always give yourself a chance to win,’’ Heath said. “That (2011-12) team was built that way. We haven’t gotten back to that mentality, and I think that’s why we haven’t been as consistent, whether it’s on the road or at home.
“I don’t think our team has really sunk its teeth into how important this home court is. We don’t bring out the tenacity you need on your home court. We’ve seen it at times … but not enough.’’
USF has lost 26 of its past 32 conference games. And one of the most humiliating occurred on Feb. 12 — UConn 83, USF 40 — when the Bulls shot just 24 percent. Heath said he believes USF will be much more equipped to play tonight.
“If you’ve got any kind of pride, any kind of heart, you’re going to come out a lot differently than the first time around,’’ Heath said.
“You never want to lose like that,’’ Rudd said. “We’ll play better (tonight).’’