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Mar 18, 2024 9:15 pm

Fresh off first conference title, South Florida opens NIT vs. UCF

Chris Youngblood

South Florida, coming off the first regular-season conference title in the program’s 53-year history, is ready for its next challenge.

The Bulls (24-7) will travel to play their biggest rival, fourth-seeded UCF (17-15), in a first-round NIT game on Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla.

The Bulls, who got off to a slow start at 2-4 under new coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, have won 22 of their past 25 games. That includes a program-record 15-game win streak on their way to the American Athletic Conference title.

“My top goal all along was being the most connected team in the country,” Abdur-Rahim said. “The results take care of itself if you are fighting and playing for each other.”

The Bulls won the College Basketball Invitational in 2019, but this is their first time making the NCAA Tournament or NIT since 2012. The Bulls have never won an NIT game away from home, going 4-8 overall.

UCF is in the NIT for the second straight year. While the Knights have won seven fewer games than the Bulls, that’s only part of the story.

UCF, in its first season in the Big 12 Conference, defeated three teams that were in the Top 25 at the time: No. 3 Kansas, No. 23 Oklahoma and No. 23 Texas Tech. Before this season, the Knights had never beaten more than two Top 25 teams in one season.

UCF made it to the second round of last season’s NIT, beating Florida and losing to Oregon. UCF coach Johnny Dawkins has won the NIT twice, leading Stanford to titles in 2012 and ‘15.

The Knights are coming off an 87-73 loss to BYU in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament. BYU made 14 3-pointers to sink UCF.

“We were trying to contain those threes,” Dawkins said. “But they were able to find openings and knock down shots under pressure.”

Key players to watch include UCF’s top two scorers, Jaylin Sellers (15.6 ppg) and Darius Johnson (15.2).

For USF, the top scorers are Chris Youngblood (15.1) and Selton Miguel (14.9).

None of those four players have missed a game all season.

South Florida leads the all-time series against UCF 27-21. The teams have not met this season because of UCF’s conference change, but the Bulls beat the Knights twice in 2022-23.

–Field Level Media

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