Rice at USF: 5 thoughts from the Dons’ resounding win on Monday night

Shot (poorly) on iphone 5s

Final score: USF 80, Rice 54
The game turned when: USF used a 10-o run, midway through the first half, to amass a 27–12 lead on the way to a 41–22 halftime advantage.
Low-key star of the show: Rice sophomore 6–5 forward Egor Koulechov. During Rice’s Bay Area swing, the Arizona State transfer put up 36 points in games against Cal and USF. There’s nothing flashy about the way Koulechov goes about his scoring. He’s a good shooter, and though he struggled to a 7-of-22 mark against the Dons, he still finished with a game-high 17, the brunt of those points coming thanks to his relentless desire to attack the rim off the bounce, and crash the offensive glass—often tipping up, and in, his own misses. To wit: Koulechov finished with a game-high six offensive boards, part of his 10 total rebounds. That was good for a post-game props from USF coach Rex Walters.
Key quote: Walters, on USF sophomore point guard Devin Watson: “It’s been really fun the last two weeks with Devin. Something in him switched, and he took a leadership role, and became more vocal. Our guys really respect him.”

  1. USF is 2–0. For such a young team (see: 11 newcomers), six of whom look likely to play major minutes, that’s a really good statement. Following the team’s gritty season-opening win, on the road against Illinois-Chicago, this was a strong response. Eighty points, 16 forced turnovers, 26 points off them. Resounding rebounding advantage (45–33), ample bench scoring, and 51% team field goal, coupled with holding Rice to 34% from the field. Now, comes the first big test of the season: a road trip to Fresno State, which boasts Mountain West preseason Player of the Year Marvelle Harris, and beat the Dons’ West Coast Conference rival Pepperdine on its home court last week.
  2. R & R: As in, Renfro and Reynolds. Add in 6–9, 220-pound freshman forward Matthew McCarthy, an Aussie, and 6–7 senior Montray Clemons, and Walters has some interesting combinations to work with in the front court. Reynolds and Renfro have started both games this season, and their activity—both are live-wires on the glass—keyed a strong start. However, as will often be the case this season, they showed bouts of inexperience. Late defensive rotations, pickups, some of which led to Rice buckets. But the good they put up was far greater. Take Reynolds, blocking a three-point jumper, tipped the ball before it got out of bounds, and getting a pass to junior guard Uche Ofoegbu, who had a free path to a dunk.

3. DWatz. Early on in his freshman season, Watson revealed that he’d been a huge Shabazz Napier fan as the UConn star guard led the Huskies to the 2014 NCAA championship. Watson dreams big, and he has the talent, swagger, and ever-increasing savvy to meet his expectations. A team-high 12 points on Monday, alongside six assists, and two steals. One of the most interesting plot lines for the Dons this season will be whether a dependable backup at point emerges. Walters has played Watson alongside Sean Grennan, a graduate transfer from Fairfield, at stages during the early going this season, and Grennan has also run point on his own. What is already evident, though, is Watson holds the keys to how far USF can go this season.

4. So much youth? Just win, baby. Every preseason prognostication about the Dons brought up the sizeable incoming class. Eleven newcomers. Just two starters back. How would this group gel? After the game, I asked USF sophomore point guard Devin Watson how it felt to put two wins on the board, and he flashed a huge smile. Felt great. “Now, we’ve got to keep getting those wins.” That was something Rex Walters seconded, during his own press conference. Did he enjoy this win? Not really. He was already looking forward to Fresno State. But Walters did reveal that he thinks this Dons team is going to be excellent, offensively. There are numerous options to turn to: keep an eye on junior guards Ronnie Boyce and Uche Ofoegbu, starter-level talent, currently coming off the bench.

5. Tim Derksen, lest we forget: Walters has said that he wants Derksen, a senior guard, to enjoy this final season without preoccupying himself too much with the weight of marshaling such an inexperienced group. But when it comes to lead-by-example-level nous, you won’t find a better case than the 6–3 Derksen.

Including USF’s exhibition this year against San Francisco State, Derksen compiled three double-doubles in a row, spanning the ‘14–15 season-finale against Gonzaga, last March, to that exhibition, and this season’s opener at Illinois-Chicago. Few navigate the baseline more efficiently on offense, whether producing assists or points.

Derksen is going to have some big games this year, but his effect will be felt most in the calm he provides on the court. It was palpable, tonight against Rice. Don’t forget, in USF’s 21-win season in ‘13–14, Derksen embraced his sixth-man role, to the point that he became one of the best impact subs in the conference. No ego to this dude. To wit: Walters said, in his post-game press conference, “If they (the newcomers) can work as hard as Tim Derksen, we can have something really special.”

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

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