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Men’s Basketball: Tampa test

Mike Gotimer | Friday, February 11, 2011

Coming off a scintillating 89-79 overtime win over No. 16 Louisville, No. 8 Notre Dame will hit the road and look to avoid a trap game against South Florida.

While the Irish (20-4, 9-3 Big East) currently sit in second place in the conference and the Bulls (8-17, 2-10) find themselves second from the bottom, Notre Dame hardly expects to cruise to an easy victory in sunny Florida. As the Irish battled the Cardinals Wednesday night in their classic matchup, USF led by as many as 16 points in the second half against Marquette before the Golden Eagles rebounded to steal a one-point victory. The Bulls also took then-No. 4 Connecticut to overtime before falling 66-61 on New Year’s Eve in Hartford, and a week later, they played then-No. 7 Villanova tough through the first half before the Wildcats’ shooters took over in the second half. In addition, they led Louisville at the half at the Sun Dome in their Jan. 6 matchup.

“Well, as one of our former football coaches once said, they give scholarships too,” Irish coach Mike Brey told UND.com. “They’ve got good players, they’re really athletic — they’re huge — and we have to be very ready to play. You know, if we’re not ready to play, we can flat out get beat in Tampa. Every time we’ve played down there — two wins and one loss — it’s been a dogfight. I’m concerned about us rebounding the basketball with the size that they put on the floor.”

With USF’s size advantage in mind, the biggest concern for the Irish will be containing 6-foot-10, 245-pound junior forward Augustus Gilchrist, who leads the Bulls with 12.3 points per game. He ranks second on the team with 6.6 rebounds per game, just behind 6-foot-8 junior forward Ron Anderson Jr.’s 6.7 boards per game. Senior forward-center Jarrid Famous rounds out the USF frontcourt at 6-foot-11 and adds 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. As a team, the Bulls rank 65th nationally in rebounds per game while the Irish are 80th.

As the Irish continue to pursue their stated goal of winning the Big East’s regular season title, games like the one against the Bulls become must-wins if Notre Dame wants to keep pace in the Big East standings and improve their chances for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. Brey, however, knows that his Irish will get USF’s best shot.

“Marquette escaped with their life,” Brey said. “[South Florida] will have a lot of energy [and] nothing to lose against us. Guys that maybe aren’t great shooters all of a sudden will be good shooters for a half, hopefully not a game. We have to understand that it’s a huge game, that we can win three in a row on the road — something this group hasn’t done yet — and get to 10 league wins.”

Notre Dame tips off against South Florida at noon at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Saturday. The game can be seen live on ESPN3.com.