Tampa, FL – The No. 24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish look to bounce back as they visit the Sun Dome for a Big East Conference battle against the South Florida Bulls on Saturday.
This will be the 11th meeting all-time between the Fighting Irish and the Bulls. Notre Dame holds a 9-1 record in the series. All of the contests have occurred since USF joined the Big East in 2005. The Irish won both meetings in 2011-12. Notre Dame claimed a 60-49 home victory and then defeated USF, 57-53, in an overtime thriller in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
Mike Brey's Fighting Irish have lost three of their last four games to fall to a 3-3 conference record, which puts them in the middle of the pack, despite their impressive 15-4 overall standing. Notre Dame suffered just its second setback at home of the season on Monday as it was defeated, 63-47, by Georgetown. The Fighting Irish set new season-lows in points (47) and field goal percentage (.347) versus the Hoyas. Now they look to recover on the road where they own an even 1-1 record.
Notre Dame will try to regain some steam without starting guard Scott Martin, who will be out indefinitely due to a left knee injury. The team will have to rely even more on senior forward Jack Cooley, who notched his second consecutive double-double against Georgetown with 10 points and the same number of rebounds. The 6-foot-9 power forward paces the team in scoring (14.1) and pulls down a conference leading 10.6 rebounds per tilt. The Fighting Irish rank second in the nation as a team in assists with 18.3 per contest due to their stellar junior backcourt combo of Eric Atkins (11.9 ppg, 6.5 apg) and Jerian Grant (12.5 ppg, 5.3 apg).
The Bulls will counter with their own star floor general, Anthony Collins. The sophomore point guard has upped his numbers from his promising freshman campaign to 9.6 points and 7.1 assists per outing. Collins went 2-of-7 from the floor for six points and dealt out 10 assists in USF's 55-47 loss at Seton Hall on Wednesday. The disappointing result dropped Stan Heath's team to a 10-8 overall record including a dismal 1-5 mark in Big East action. The Pirates held a 34-20 edge in the rebounding battle and limited USF to 33.9 percent shooting in the matchup.
The lack of offensive production is nothing new for the Bulls, who are the lowest scoring team in the league at 61.6 ppg. They are a much better team defensively with only 60.3 points allowed per game. Junior forward Victor Rudd leads the team with 10.9 ppg despite being held to 13 total points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field over his last two outings. Jawanza Poland and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick are both carrying double-digit scoring averages into this one as well, but USF will need to re-establish its defensive principles after allowing Seton Hall to knock down 52.5 percent of its field goal tries.