SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- For two years Trevon Evans and Drew Guebert were the faces of USF basketball, leading the Cougars to 39 wins, and leaving a big void following their graduations.
"We didn't really know what to expect going into the season." USF Sophomore Forward Chase Grinde says.
"You don't lose 50 points a night and feel great about it. But I definitely felt like there was a route for us to be competitive this year." USF Head Coach Chris Johnson says.
That path didn't seem too clear on December 13th when the Coo were beaten 100-65 by Duluth. Yet from that hideous game came a revelation.
"We can't play other team's games. We have to play our game. We have to be tough. We have to be a little gritty." USF Junior Forward Teathloach Pal says.
Ugly can be beautiful.
"It might not be the most pretty game. But those are the games that we find ourselves playing the best in." Grinde says.
A commitment to physical defense and methodical offense has led to a slower pace. Though they are down from 7th to 14th in league in scoring, USF has the top team defense in the league, allowing just 67 points a game.
"Most of these teams are used to scoring 80-90 points. And we're bringing them down to 60. So that's building us up with so much confidence knowing that we can shut them down." Pal says.
And it's paid off. At 19-5 the Cougars have already matched last year's win total, and the team picked to finish tenth in the preseason, stands alone in first.
"I love this type of basketball. I would call it pretty, honestly! We're a physical basketball team and we kind of grind you down on offense. That's not an easy way to win. So to get 15 guys that are willing to do that every single night and every day in practice, that's why it's been so much fun." Johnson says.
With more dirty work to be done.
"I think we've definitely made a mark and we're not done yet." Pal says.