By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, JAN. 16, 2014 – The Sun Dome will be the place to be to watch two “monster” men’s basketball games in the next week.
It all starts 5 p.m. Saturday, when the Bulls host No. 19/23 Cincinnati and the action continues Wednesday, Jan. 22 against No. 18/14 Louisville at 7 p.m. The Bulls continue their tough stretch at No. 17 Memphis on Sunday, Jan. 26 in Tennessee.
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“This is a huge slate in front of us. These are the monsters right in front us with Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis – three of the top teams in the league right away,” head coach Stan Heath said before Thursday’s practice. “We’ve got to be able to steal some games and try to really grind and toughen ourselves up so we can protect our home court.”
USF (10-7, 1-3) saw its program record of four consecutive road wins snapped with a 71-54 loss at SMU on Wednesday night. The Mustangs (12-4, 2-2) started on a 13-0 run and never looked back while shooting 50 percent from the field.
“I told my team until we really make a commitment to the defensive end we’re going to be a very inconsistent basketball team,” Heath said. “You’re going to have games where you’re not going to make your shots and the ball isn’t dropping, but you have to bring your defense, especially on the road.”
USF knows it will have to really bring it on defense Saturday against first-place Cincinnati (16-2, 5-0). The Bearcats have won nine straight games heading into their 34th meeting with the Bulls dating back to 1975.
“They’re so physical, tough and aggressive,” Heath said. “It’s a really good team that’s playing at a very high level right now. They’re on a roll.”
Heath’s message was received loud and clear by USF players that remain confident about the team’s ability to defend.
“If we just play hard, bang with people and bring the physicality with people, we’ll get wins in this conference,” forward Zach LeDay said. “That’s what SMU did to us. I think it took that (run) to learn and see that you can’t start out the game like that. You’ve got to come out and fight the whole game.”
Home Sweet Home for LeDay
Zach LeDay put together his best game of the season with 12 points and a team-high six rebounds close to home at SMU.
The sophomore forward from The Colony, a suburb of Dallas, had about 50 family members, friends and former coaches at Moody Coliseum to cheer him on while he went 3-for-3 from the field and 6-for-8 from the free throw line.
“It was pretty good to play in front of them, breathe that Dallas air and be on the court at a place I used to ball boy for,” he said.
LeDay was in fourth grade when he and his younger brother helped the Mustangs out and said the atmosphere at Moody Coliseum was much different than his early days with the program. Moody Coliseum has now hosted two SMU men’s basketball games after a $47-million renovation project was completed.
“We were at the old, old Moody Coliseum and it was really bad. It’s really nice now with the renovations,” LeDay said. “It’s crazy how time flies.”