By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - A season of high expectations is right around the corner and veteran Bulls are making sure the entire team is ready to go when fans flood the Sun Dome on Saturday night.
Senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick spoke in front of the team before Wednesday's practice and redshirt junior forward Victor Rudd was there at the end to give encouraging words in an attempt to keep the Bulls' minds right before the season opener against UCF.
"We're picking it up leadership-wise and giving those new guys someone to look up to and someone to follow out there in practice," Fitzpatrick said.
The message given from stars to newer players was all about focusing and relaxing just days before the Sun Dome is filled with an electric crowd for the 7 p.m. game.
"A lot of times new guys come to college after being dominant at their high schools. It's a big adjustment coming to college and having to deal with coaches on your back and making the right plays at all times," Fitzpatrick said. "We're trying to get them focused and trying to get them to retain a lot of information that's being given in practice."
Older Bulls are making an extra effort early on because they know what the team is capable of after USF almost made it to t he Sweet 16 last season.
"We have high expectations for ourselves. We thought we could have gone further last year, so this year we want to make up for that," Rudd said.
A Look at the Opponent
C-USA Preseason Player of the Year Keith Clanton leads a large number of returning players on a UCF team that posted 22 wins last season, including memorable victories over No. 4 UConn and Memphis.
Other players to keep an eye on are 6-foot-5 guard Isaiah Sykes and 6-foot-1 guard Calvin Newell. Sykes averaged 12.3 and 6.4 rebounds last season while scoring in double figures 22 times. Newell will make his UCF debut after averaging 13 points at Oklahoma two seasons ago.
USF head coach Stan Heath is well aware of UCF's capabilities and knows Saturday's installment of the intense in-state rivalry will be a challenge for the Bulls.
"I know they wouldn't like anything more than to come in here, bring it and get a chance to steal one," Heath said. "We have to protect home and it's not going to be easy. Both teams I think are going to bring their 'A' game."
Get to the Sun Dome Early
A pep rally and student party is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday outside of Gate D with special performances by the USF Spirit Squads.