WHO: FGCU (11-5-2) at USF (8-5-4)
WHAT: First round of the NCAA tournament
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
TICKETS: General admission to the game is free thanks to the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. A limited number of reserved seats are available for the match-up (guaranteed chair-back seat). Tickets are $15 and are available for purchase on-line at ticketmaster.com, 1-800-745-3000, or at the USF Ticket Office.
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - USF starts its sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance at home against a team it defeated, 3-0, earlier in the season at Corbett Stadium. Ask players and coaches about the Bulls' win over FGCU on Sept. 25 and they'll tell you the past is insignificant heading into Thursday's 7 p.m. battle.
"We've already played them before, but that means nothing. It's a fresh tournament game and we're putting that game aside because they're a very good team," senior midfielder Kyle Nicholls said.
Fans have a chance to attend the game for free thanks to the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and people filling the seats and berms on Thursday could be in for a whole new show. Both teams will play with much healthier lineups with FGCU sending out a much different team that includes leading scorer Felipe DeSousa, who missed the teams' first meeting because of a suspension.
"This will be different because now we have our whole squad," starter Luis Vega told the Naples Daily News. "We should be ready for them. We just have to get prepared."
"I think we'll see a different team than we saw the first time around, but at the same time I feel like we're healthier and have some cards nobody has seen as well," USF head coach George Kiefer said.
The Bulls definitely appear to be ready after having more than two weeks to prepare after missing out on the Big East tournament. USF earned an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament after going 8-5-4 against some of the toughest competition in the country. The Bulls were No. 25 in the latest RPI and embraced the road to the postseason while dealing with a large number of injuries.
"Whenever (the selection committee goes) in that room and pick teams, they're always talking about strength of schedule. You not only have to play good teams, but beat good teams," Kiefer said.
Now the Bulls find themselves in a pretty sweet situation. Win Thursday and they'll get a chance to host another NCAA tournament game against Tulsa on Sunday, but the team talks about that situation as much as it does its about previous meeting with FGCU.
"I've been doing this long enough where NCAA tournament teams that are looking at how many home games they have typically play one. We're going to focus on Florida Gulf Coast and that's it," Kiefer said. "To go into a soccer game and try to play two of them at once isn't a good recipe."