By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA (Jan. 2, 2014) – USF will have a tall task at hand when it shoots for its first American Athletic Conference victory 4 p.m. Saturday against Houston at the Sun Dome.
The Cougars (9-5, 1-0) are coming off a thrilling 75-71 victory over No. 17 UConn that featured 23 points from 6-foot-8 junior forward TaShawn Thomas.
“Houston just showed with a big win over UConn that they’re for real,” head coach Stan Heath said. “TaShawn Thomas is one of the better big guys we’re going to face around the basket and they’ve got some shooters and some other weapons around him.”
The number of weapons around Thomas has lessened with injuries to four starters including guards Danuel House (knee) and L.J. Rose (foot). Houston was without both players for its battle with the Huskies while Thomas stepped up down the stretch. Thomas made two free throws with 9 seconds left and blocked Shabazz Napier to help the Cougars defeat a ranked team for the first time since they got past UCF on Jan. 8, 2011.
Heath said he’ll probably match up 6-foot-10 freshman center John Egbunu with Thomas at the start of Saturday’s game but noted it will take a collective effort to bottle up the 1,000-career point scorer. Thomas leads the Cougars with 17.8 points per game and he’s second in the conference with an average of 9.3 rebounds.
“John is going to need some help from his teammates,” Heath said. “I can’t just be a one-man effort. We’ve got to throw him different looks. He’s a tough cover.”
Heath was encouraged by Egbunu the last time out when he posted his second double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds in an 88-73 loss to No. 18 Memphis on New Year’s Eve.
“John had a monster performance and hopefully I can get John and Chris (Perry) going at the same time,” Heath said.
Heath and the Bulls (9-5, 0-1) know they’ll have to keep an eye on Thomas on the other end of the floor as well. The 2012-13 Conference USA All-Defensive Team member currently leads the American with 3.8 blocks per game.
“The thing we’ve got to do is attack him. We’ve got to put some pressure on him,” Heath said.
Get more updates on the Bulls by following the team on Twitter @USFMBB and purchase tickets for Saturday’s showdown at the Sun Dome HERE.