Bearcats Complete Home-and-Home with St. John's

Feb. 12, 2008

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With seven games remaining in the BIG EAST Conference regular season, the Cincinnati Bearcats (11-12, 6-5 BIG EAST) return home to Fifth Third Arena for a weeknight match-up with St. John's (10-12, 4-7 BIG EAST) on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. UC is tied for sixth in the conference, a half-game out of fifth place, thanks in part to a 3-2 mark at home in league play. The Bearcats picked up their second straight league road win at Rutgers on Saturday, in Piscataway, N.J., winning in overtime, 72-68. The Bearcats pushed the game into the extra period as senior forward John Williamson poured in a season-high 22 points and Cincinnati out-rebounded the Scarlet Knights, 52-37. In overtime, sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn, who had scored just six points in the first 40 minutes, torched Rutgers for 13 points in the final five minutes.


SHOWING THEIR STRENGTH ... OF SCHEDULE: Before the season even began, head coach Mick Cronin knew he had a young squad with six freshmen and just 14 combined years of Division I college experience. The team would have to learn quickly as it had one of the nation's top non-conference schedules as well as a full BIG EAST slate. After getting through the month of Dec. with a 5-7 non-conference mark and a strength of schedule (SOS) ranked No. 196, the Bearcats saw their SOS rating skyrocket in January as they picked up wins over Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia. After games played on Feb. 11, the Bearcats own the nation's fourth-toughest strength of schedule, trailing Arizona, No. 4 Tennessee, and No. 5 North Carolina.



St. John's at Cincinnati


SCOUTING THE RED STORM: St. John's comes into Fifth Third Arena with a three-game winning streak which includes wins at USF (72-58), at Rutgers (52-45) and home vs. Providence (64-62). The Red Storm is 10-12 on the season and is tied for 12th in the BIG EAST with a mark of 4-7. St. John's only other win in BIG EAST action outside the current streak came vs. Cincinnati on Jan. 5, 70-58.

      In its last game on Saturday vs. Providence, sophomore guard Larry Wright scored 16 points for the Red Storm, including two free throws in the final 19 seconds to lift St. John's to the two-point victory over the Friars. Freshman forward Sean Evans had 12 points and nine rebounds for SJU, who won again without leading scorer Anthony Mason, Jr. (13.5 points). Mason, a junior forward, injured his ankle in the win over South Florida and also missed the victory at Rutgers.

      Freshman forward Justin Burrell is the team's top rebounder, averaging 6.7 boards (19th in BIG EAST) per game, and the second-leading scorer (12.3 ppg).  Senior guard Eugene Lawrence is among the BIG EAST leaders in assists (3.64; 13th in BIG EAST) and steals (1.64; 13th). The Bearcats will have to watch Larry Wright from behind the 3-point stripe as he is converting on .390 (41-of-105) of his attempts.

      St. John's head coach Norm Roberts owns a career mark of 47-60 and is 2-0 vs. Cincinnati.


BEARCATS IN THE BIG EAST: Since joining the BIG EAST Conference in 2005-06, Cincinnati owns an overall record of 15-27 in league play, including an 11-10 mark in Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats are 7-6 in their last 13 BIG EAST games, dating back to last season's 70-67 overtime win over Seton Hall in the home finale. UC head coach Mick Cronin picked up his first and second BIG EAST road wins this season, picking off his mentors - Rick Pitino at Louisville, 58-57, and Bob Huggins at West Virginia, 62-39. Cincinnati's win at West Virginia on Jan. 30 is Cincinnati's largest margin of victory in a BIG EAST game.


Overall Record:           15-27 (7-19 under Cronin)

Home:                         11-10 (5-8 under Cronin)

Away:                          4-17 (2-11 under Cronin)

First BIG EAST Win:   82-60 vs. DePaul, 1/4/06

Most UC Points:          96 (96-83, W-OT) vs. West Virginia, 1/20/07

Most Opponent Points:          91 (91-74, L) at Notre Dame, 1/15/08

Combined Points:       179 (96-83, W-OT) vs. West Virginia, 1/20/07

Biggest UC Win:         23 (62-39) at West Virginia, 1/30/08


ELEVEN IS A MAGIC NUMBER: With the 72-68 victory at Rutgers on Saturday, Cincinnati equaled its win total from last year when it went 11-19. The Bearcats have seven games remaining in the season, including road games at Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut, who all are currently in the top five in the conference. UC's remaining opponents, including Rutgers, have a combined winning percentage of .615 (99-62).


ANOTHER BIG "O" FOR UC ... OVERTIME: The Bearcats needed an extra five minutes on Saturday to knock off Rutgers, 72-68, and move to 3-0 in overtime games under head coach Mick Cronin. Sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn did a lot of the leg work in the extra period vs. the Scarlet Knights, scoring 13 of his 19 points. He now has scored 21 points in three overtime periods for his career. UC is now 47-42 all-time in overtime games.


SINCE THE LAST MEETING: Since Cincinnati lost to St. John's, 70-58, in Carnesecca Arena on Jan. 5, the Bearcats have gone 5-4, including wins vs. Syracuse, Villanova, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Rutgers. Meanwhile, the Red Storm has posted a record of 3-6, losing the six games immediately following the win vs. UC and then winning its last three. One key to the Bearcats' success in the last nine games has been its ability to out-rebound its opponents by five caroms a game (38.0-33.0). During the stretch, sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn and senior forward John Williamson have led the way offensively, notching 20.8 and 10.7 points per game, respectively. Senior point guard Jamual Warren has been Mr. Versatility, putting up 6.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game.


CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: Since the start of BIG EAST Conference play, Cincinnati has played six games decided by five points or less and owns a record of 4-2 in those contests. The Bearcats won their first three, knocking off Louisville (Jan. 1) by one point and Villanova (Jan. 12) and Pittsburgh (Jan. 19) by three, then lost games vs. Connecticut (Jan. 23) and at Seton Hall (Jan. 27) by a combined four points, before pulling out the 72-68 overtime win at Rutgers on Saturday. Overall, Cincinnati is 6-4 on the season in games decided by five points or less and 7-9 in Mick Cronin's two seasons at UC.


NO LOVE FOR UC IN FEBRUARY: In the Bearcats' three seasons in the BIG EAST, the month of February has been difficult as they have posted a record of 5-12 (.294) in conference action.  In comparison, Cincinnati is 10-15 (.400) in the month of January after going 5-4 last month. Despite the record, senior forward John Williamson and sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn both had one of their most productive months of their career last year in February as the pair averaged 16.5 and 15.3 points per game, respectively. Vaughn opened the month last Saturday with a 23-point outburst vs. Marquette, while Williamson led all scorers at Rutgers with 22 points.


DEFENDING THE THREE: Since the start of BIG EAST Conference play, one thing UC has improved immensely has been its ability to defend against the 3-pointer. In conference games, the Bearcats are second in the BIG EAST in 3-point shooting defense, allowing opponents to connect on just 27.4 percent (54-of-197) of their attempts. At West Virginia, on Jan. 30, Cincinnati held the Mountaineers to just one 3-point basketball in 22 attempts, the fewest treys in a game by a UC opponent since holding cross-town rival Xavier to 1-of-18 shooting on Jan. 19, 2006. In the last game at Rutgers, the Bearcats held the Knights to 7-of-26 (.269) from behind the line.


                                                      Non-Conference   Conference

Opponent 3-pt Made (per game)   85 (7.1)                  54 (4.9)

Opponent 3-pt Attempts (per game)                           245 (20.4)        171 (17.9)

Opponent 3-pt Pct.                        .347                       .274


PLAY DEFENSE AND REBOUND: UC basketball has built its success over the last 20 years on two core values ... defense and rebounding. Head coach Mick Cronin learned it as an assistant at UC and those same values hold true for this year's squad as well. The Bearcats own records of 6-0 when holding opponents to 60 points or less and 9-5 when winning the rebounding margin.


DOMINATING DEFENSE: UC's 23-point victory at West Virginia took on historic proportions as Cincinnati held West Virginia to 20 percent (10-of-50) from the field, the lowest shooting percentage in WVU history. The Mountaineers' 10 field goals also tied the UC record for the fewest shots made by an opponent, equaling games vs. North Texas State (1960-61), Miami (OH) (1961-62), and Kentucky (1983-84).


BOUNCING BACK ON THE BOARDS: After being out-rebounded in back-to-back games to start the BIG EAST season at Louisville and St. John's, UC has since owned the glass, posting a 38.0-35.0 advantage on average.  At Rutgers last Saturday, the Bearcats posted 52 rebounds, its most for head coach Mick Cronin in his two seasons, and out-rebounded the Scarlet Knights by 15. It is the second time in three games, UC posted 45 or more rebounds, out hustling West Virginia, 47-26 on Jan. 30. In the last nine games, five UC players are averaging three or more rebounds, led by senior guard Jamual Warren's 5.8 a night.


TAKING CARE OF THE BALL: Cincinnati has done a much better job taking care of the basketball in its last five BIG EAST Conference games.  In its first five league games, the Bearcats were coughing up the basketball an average of 16.6 times per game, a number they have slimmed to 11.8 in their last six contests. For the season, Cincinnati is averaging 13.9 turnovers per game.


SIKE-S: Senior forward Marcus Sikes, who was a regular in the Bearcats' lineup last season, has transitioned to coming off the bench this season and has needed time to adjust. In the last three games, Sikes has been major contributor for UC off the bench as he has averaged 2.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, including a career-high 12 boards at West Virginia.


THE OTHER Larry Davis: Freshman guard Larry Davis, who has the same name as UC's associate head coach, has started to become a scorer for UC. After being held scoreless in five straight appearances from Dec. 29-Jan. 9, Davis has scored 28 points in 58 minutes over his last seven contests. Eighteen of the points have come from behind the arc where he has connected on 6-of-13 (.462).


500-POINT MAN: Sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn needs 90 points to become the 32nd player in Cincinnati history to record 500 points or more in a season. He would be the first Bearcats basketball player to do so since James White and Eric Hicks each topped the mark in 2005-06. The top three single seasons in the program's history belong to College Basketball's Player of the Century Oscar Robertson who scored over 900 points in three straight seasons (1957-60).


BEARCATS TOUGH IN FIFTH THIRD ARENA:  Cincinnati is in its 19th season in Fifth Third Arena at Shoemaker Center with a 253-48 record, a .841 winning percentage.  UC is 88-25 in Fifth Third over the last six seasons, including an 8-5 mark this season. In two years at Cincinnati, Mick Cronin is 18-13 at home.


LIFE'S TOUGHER ON THE ROAD: After picking up their first road win of the season at Louisville, on New Year's Day, the Cincinnati Bearcats dropped three straight away from Fifth Third Arena before ending the streak at WVU on Jan. 30. UC is 3-7 overall on the road this season. Sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn, scores 7.1 fewer points away from Cincinnati mainly due to his 3-point shooting which drops from .436 (44-of-104) at home to .333 (20-of-60) on the road .


Category                               Home          Away

Scoring Offense                     68.7             62.7

Scoring Defense                    67.5             67.3

Field Goal Pct.                        42.6             41.7

Field Goal Percentage Defense                  43.3           41.6

3-Point FG Pct.                       33.9             33.0

3-Point FG Defense                32.2             30.4

Rebounding Margin                +3.6             +2.6


30/30 MAN: One of the primary keys to the Bearcats success this season has been the offensive play of sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn. Against Connecticut, Vaughn posted his second 30-point game of the season and the third of his career, scoring 34 points on just 14 shots. Vaughn, the BIG EAST Player of the Week earlier this season (Jan. 7-13), has exploded during conference play, averaging 20.4 points per game despite 10- and 14-point scoring performances vs. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, respectively. Vaughn's other 30-point game this season came against Coastal Carolina on Nov.  16 as he scored a career-high 36 points and knocked down nine 3-pointers - one short of tying the school's single-game record held by Melvin Levitt (vs.  Eastern Kentucky, 1997-98). Vaughn is the first UC player to post two or more 30-point games in the same season since Leonard Stokes also had a pair in 2002-03 vs. Tulane (Jan. 17, 2003) and Louisville (Feb. 22, 2003).


TAKING OVER AT THE END: Since sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn joined the team last season, he has been given the ball and asked to take on the added pressure of being the go-to player down the stretch. Vaughn has responded to the challenge and this season has averaged 7.2 points during the final 10 minutes of games. What is even more impressive are his shooting percentages in the final 10 minutes as he is converting .543 (50-of-92) from the field and .467 (21-of-45) from behind the 3-point arc. Against Rutgers, Vaughn single-handedly won the game for Cincinnati, 72-68, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the in overtime.


FINDING CONSISTENCY: One thing that every young team has to develop as they mature is consistency and the Cincinnati Bearcats are no different. When you compare Cincinnati's statistics in wins vs. losses you can see where a lack of consistency has made a difference. In UC's 11 wins, the team is shooting .442 from the field compared to .405 in the losses.  The largest difference that is impacting whether UC comes out ahead or not is the team's defense. In wins, the Bearcats are holding their opponents to .380 shooting from the field and 59.0 points per game. Contrasting that to UC's losses, Cincinnati's defense is allowing its opponents to score on .472 of their shots, leading to 75.2 points per game - a difference of 16.2 points per game.


COMING OF AGE: UC's six-man freshman class has been coming on as of late and adjusting to play in the BIG EAST Conference. After scoring a combined 45 points in the first four league games (11.3 ppg), the sextet has posted 127 points in the last seven games (20.0 ppg), including a season-high 33 points by the group at Notre Dame and 26 vs. Connecticut. Freshman Rashad Bishop, who had the game-deciding 3-pointer vs. Villanova, is the team's top scoring freshman, putting in 5.4 points a game. Alvin Mitchell, who had scored 21 points in his first 13 games as a Bearcat has almost doubled his point total for the year in the last eight games, pouring in 41 points, including all six of his 3-point baskets.


BIG TIME PLAY IN THE BIG EAST: After a record of 5-7 in non-conference play, head coach Mick Cronin needed the leaders on the team to step up and show the way as the Bearcats headed into BIG EAST Conference play. Sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn and senior forward John Williamson have picked up the pace offensively. Vaughn, who averaged 15.5 points per game during the non-conference schedule, has posted 20.5 points per night in the league, while Williamson has improved his scoring average from 9.3 in non-conference play to 11.0 in the BIG EAST. On the defensive side of the ball, senior guard Jamual Warren has given UC a new presence on the glass, leading the team with 5.6 caroms per conference game. Warren also leads the team in assists (52), steals (14) and assists-to-turnover ratio at 2.00 in league play.


BIG EAST TIMES TWO: For the first time since 1998-99, the BIG EAST is playing an 18-game league schedule after playing 16 games the last eight years. The new 18-game format has schools playing each league opponent once and three teams twice. Cincinnati faces Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and St. John's in three home-and-home series. Connecticut and Marquette are the two teams UC did not face in BIG EAST play last season.


HELP OFF THE BENCH: For Cincinnati, team depth has provided Coach Cronin with a great deal of options as he has fine tuned a rotation of players that goes nine deep playing 10 minutes or more a night. That depth played a big part in UC's last seven games as the Bearcats have outscored the opposition's bench 194-108, including a 23-2 advantage vs. Syracuse and a 40-16 vs. Notre Dame. On average, the Bearcats are getting 18.4 points per game from their reserves, led by senior Marvin Gentry and freshman Larry Davis, who are averaging 5.9 and 3.5 points per game, respectively, off the bench.


HOLDING ON WITH A FIRM GRIP: In just over a season and a half, one characteristic of a Mick Cronin team has been its ability to hold on to leads late. Until the loss to UConn, the Bearcats were undefeated, at 8-0 this season, when leading with five minutes to play. UC is 19-4 in Cronin's time at Cincinnati when leading with five minutes remaining in the game.


IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES: The Bearcats are 2-3 in BIG EAST play and 2-1 on the road ... senior guard Deonta Vaughn has scored in double figures five times and leads the team with 21.8 points per game ... Vaughn is one of four players averaging five or more points per game ... UC is shooting 42.7 percent from the field (123-of-288), including 37.9 percent (39-of-103) from behind the 3-point line ... Vaughn has knocked down 17 treys and is shooting 42.5 percent from behind the line ... as a team, UC is shooting .624 from the free-throw line, led by Vaughn at .952 (20-of-21) ... point guards Jamual Warren and Vaughn are first and second on the team in assists with 24 and 11, respectively ... Warren leads the team with an average of 5.8 boards a night ... Cincinnati's opponents have made 99 free throws, while UC has attempted 85 shots from the charity stripe.


TAKING THE POINT: Senior guard Jamual Warren can play different roles for the Bearcats depending on what the team needs each night. In the win over Miami (OH), he personally led an 8-0 run of his own with a jumper and back-to-back treys to break a 38-38 tie and carry UC to a 56-50 victory. Warren, a career 13.6 percent (9-of-66) 3-point shooter heading into the Miami game, knocked down 2-of-3 from behind the arc vs. the RedHawks and went on to score 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting -- one short of his career high of 16 points vs. West Virginia last season. He also added six rebounds, three assists, and a steal vs. Miami. At Louisville, he took on a completely different role as a rebounder and to distribute the ball. Since the start of BIG EAST play, Warren has settled in as the team's primary point guard and is averaging 5.4 points, 4.7 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game.


TAKING THE POINT II: In BIG EAST play, senior Jamual Warren has done an exceptional job protecting the ball and distributing it to his teammates. In conference games only, Warren is seventh in the league in assists (4.73 apg) and assist/turnover ratio (2.00).


EUROPEAN IMPACT: Senior center Adam Hrycaniuk (pronounced hu-RITZ-a-nyuk), a native of Poland who made an immediate impact on the Bearcats offensively in the non-conference season, has struggled at times in BIG EAST play. After having to sit out last year due to NCAA clearance issues, Hrycaniuk jumped into the line-up for UC at the beginning of the season and became an offensive threat, scoring 10.5 points per game in non-conference action. Since the start of BIG EAST play, the 6-foot-10 post player has struggled finding his touch, scoring just 4.3 points per game on 18-of-55 shooting (.327). Regardless of his offense, Hrycaniuk has not let his shooting interfere with his rebounding as he is the team's second-leading rebounder with 5.4 per game.


BISHOP TAKES QUEEN (CITY): Freshman forward/guard Rashad Bishop has quickly become one of the Bearcats' top all-around newcomers. Appearing in all 23 games and starting 16 this season, Bishop has scored in double digits four times, including an 11-point outburst in the Bearcats' upset of Pittsburgh. Not only has he provided offensive punch, he has also added 3.3 rebounds and is third on the team with 36 assists. Thanks to his gritty play against Villanova and Pittsburgh, Bishop endeared himself even more to the fans of Cincinnati. Not having scored a basket or made a rebound vs. the Wildcats in the first 39 minutes of the game, Bishop made the biggest play of the game with 22 seconds remaining, burying a 3-pointer to put Cincinnati back on top, 68-66. He followed that up vs. Pittsburgh as he blocked one of two game-tying 3-point attempts by the Panthers in a 62-59 victory.


WHEN YOU NEED IT MOST: Sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn has been clutch for the Bearcats late in games, converting 24-of-30 free throws (.800) in the last three minutes of games determined by 10 points or less. As a team, the Bearcats are shooting .714 (60-of-84) from the line down the stretch of close games.


VAUGHN BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn was named the BIG EAST Conference's Player of the Week, leading UC to a sweep of Syracuse, 74-66, and No. 19/17 Villanova, 69-66 the week of Jan. 7-13. Vaughn accounted for 37.7 percent of UC's points, posting 29 against Syracuse and 25 vs. Villanova. Vaughn joins former UC forward Eric Hicks as the only two Bearcats to earn the weekly award. Hicks earned the honor the week of Jan. 9 during the 2005-06 season, Cincinnati's first in the BIG EAST Conference.


WILLIAMSON NAMED TO BIG EAST HONOR ROLL: Senior forward John Williamson was named to the BIG EAST Conference's Honor Roll for the Week of Feb. 3-10. He is the third Bearcats basketball player to earn a league honor this season, following sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn who has picked up Player of the Week and Honor Roll plaudits earlier this season. Williamson led UC to a 72-68 victory at Rutgers University, putting up a season-high 22 points in the overtime victory. He shot 10-of-20 (.500) from the field while pulling down six rebounds and taking away a steal.

PHYSICALLY FIT: Over the last 15 years, UC basketball has the reputation of being one the most physically fit teams in the country and developing players for the next level. That comes from the players' hard work in the weight room and conditioning. This season, Adam Hrycaniuk, John Williamson and Branden Miller each can bench press over 300 pounds, led by Hrycaniuk at 315 pounds. Even the guards have impressive stats with Deonta Vaughn squatting 500 pounds and Marvin Gentry, who weighs 180 pounds, bench pressing a max of 260 pounds. Freshman forward Darnell Wilks and senior guard Jamual Warren are the team's high flyers with 40- and 36.5-inch vertical jumps, respectively.


PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Head coach Mick Cronin, in just his second year at Cincinnati, has done the work of a coach in his fourth year on the job, having signed or transferred in 16 players in the last 18-plus months. This season's six-person freshman class is considered by the recruiting services as one of the Top 20 groups in the nation and the stats attest to that as they have averaged 17.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Freshman Rashad Bishop leads the way offensively, scoring 5.4 points a night.


WILLIAMS TO MISS SEASON WITH RUPTURED ACHILLES: Junior forward Mike Williams, who was preparing for his first season on the court for the University of Cincinnati, will miss the 2007-08 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in preseason workouts. Williams, a 6-7, 230-pound native of Camden, Ala., sat out last season at UC after transferring from the University of Texas and was expected to start this season for Cincinnati. As a Longhorn, Williams played in 58 games over two years, averaging 2.7 points and 3.4 rebounds.


MARCH OF DIMES MADNESS: The University of Cincinnati is proud to partner with the March of Dimes to bring UC basketball fans the March of Dimes Madness. When the Cincinnati Bearcats men's basketball team takes on the Providence Friars on Sunday, March 2, Bearcats' Athletics will donate $5 to the March of Dimes for every ticket sold through this promotional offer.

      The March of Dimes mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. This mission is carried out through research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies' lives.

      In order to take advantage of the promotional ticket rate and have $5 contributed to the March of Dimes for each ticket, fans should visit www.marchofdimes/ohio for purchase information or call the UC Athletic Ticket Office at (513) 556-2287 or 1-877-CATS-TIX.


THE INK IS DRY: The University of Cincinnati men's basketball team signed two players to national letters of intent for the 2008-09 season, head coach Mick Cronin announced on the first day of the early signing period. Joining the Bearcats are forward Yancy Gates (Cincinnati, OH/Withrow) and guard Cashmere Wright (Savannah, GA/Urban Christian High School).

      Gates, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward, is one of the nation's top 50 players according to several recruiting sites. As a junior at Withrow High School playing for Walt McBride, Gates averaged 19.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game in 2006-07. He helped the Tigers to a 17-6 record and missed the state semifinals by one game. A second-team Ohio all-state selection, Gates is the first freshman player in Cronin's first three recruiting classes to come from the talent-rich Cincinnati area.

      Wright, another highly-regarded recruit, who is ranked among many of the recruiting services top 100 players, comes to Cincinnati from the Urban Christian Academy in Savannah, Ga., where he averaged 36.2 points, 10.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game in 2006-07. In his first two games this season, Wright posted 43 and 35 points, respectively, and is a McDonald's All-America candidate.


LOOKING AHEAD: After hosting St. John's, the Bearcats get their second bye week of the BIG EAST schedule before taking on USF Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. Cincinnati leads the all-time series with USF, 19-5, but has dropped two of the last three, including a 74-59 decision last year in Tampa.