An injury in the post was the one thing University of South Florida men's basketball coach Stan Heath knew his team could ill afford, but five games into the season the dreaded scenario became a reality.
However, junior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick has done a solid job of softening the blow for the Bulls with senior forward Augustus Gilchrist sidelined with a minor left shoulder injury, showing signs of the type of player he always envisioned he could be.
"Toarlyn is starting to get more and more comfortable," Heath said of the former King High standout. "He's a guy who worked extremely hard over the summer, and I was expecting him to be kind of this guy a little earlier, but now I'm seeing what I thought I'd see out of him."
Fitzpatrick, who made his third consecutive start Wednesday night at VCU, is averaging 9.0 points and 7.7 rebounds on the season, but over the past three games when Gilchrist has missed time he has averaged a double-double (11.0 points, 10.3 rebounds) and shot 50 percent from the field (12-for-24, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range).
Heath expects Gilchrist to return to the lineup Saturday at No. 15 Kansas, but Fitzpatrick will continue to get plenty of floor time.
"I don't want to see Toarlyn's minutes drop too much," Heath said. "I've always thought the three of those guys (Gilchrist, Fitzpatrick and senior Ron Anderson Jr.), there's 80 minutes in those spots. If we went 30, 25 and 25 I think that'd be fair for all three of those guys. And who knows? Maybe at some point in time we'd be able to play all three of those guys together. It kind of depends on what other guys are doing.
"I don't want to see him drop too much because he's a very important player. At one time Gus was probably the guy who could really knock down the perimeter shot from the post, but I think right now (Fitzpatrick is) shooting the ball as good as anybody from the perimeter. Having that extra guy out there who can do that opens things up for guys like (Anthony) Collins, who can penetrate, and (Blake) Nash."
Seniors class honored
The football team will honor its 17 seniors prior to tonight's regular-season finale against West Virginia, and of that group, 12 are expected to have earned degrees when the current semester ends next week.
Three – receiver A.J. Love and defensive end Patrick Hampton (communication), and offensive lineman Chaz Hine (business management) – already have graduated. The others are defensive backs Tyson Butler, Quenton Washington and Jerrell Young and receiver Joel Miller (communication), offensive linemen Kevin McCaskill, Darren Powe and Jeremiah Warren, defensive lineman Keith McCaskill (interdisciplinary social science), and long snapper Mike Walsh (business administration).
In addition, three juniors – tight ends Jeff Hawkins (interdisciplinary social science) and Evan Landi (communication) and linebacker Mike Lanaris (business management) – also are expected to graduate this month.
Redshirt possible for Smith
Senior guard Andrea Smith still has not been medically cleared to return to action, and women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez said this week that a redshirt could be in play.
Smith, who averaged a team-best 16.5 points per game in 2010-11, is still trying to work her way back after offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL, an injury suffered in last season's Big East tourney. She has been able to practice with the team, but her knee strength still is not where Fernandez and the team's medical staff want it to be.
"Right now, if we get Andrea it's a bonus," Fernandez said. "And if not, we got a pretty good kid on next year's roster."
The Bulls have been short-handed this season with two of their best players unavailable in Smith and transfer Inga Orekhova, who becomes eligible in January, but improved to 5-3 (two losses to Top 25 teams) with a win vs. Stetson on Monday. USF travels to Colorado Springs for two games at the Air Force Classic this weekend.