South Florida wins with rugged style

DAYTON, Ohio -- The South Florida Bulls don’t play fast. They don’t light up the scoreboard or crack nightly Top-10 highlight reels.

“Ugly” is the word that’s typically used to describe their rugged style, which helped them establish a Big East record for scoring defense (56.9 ppg).

And following their 65-54 victory over California in the First Four at the University of Dayton Arena Wednesday, the Bulls made it clear that they don’t care about their critics’ slights.

“I know people have their opinions. So they can say what they want,” said Anthony Collins, who scored 12 points. “But we're just going to play our style of play and take our time and get whatever shot we want.”

The Bulls, a team that entered the game averaging 59.2 ppg, were on pace to score nearly 80 points at one point in the first half. They held a 36-13 lead at halftime, after finishing the first half on a 14-0 run.

Victor Rudd Jr. led the team with 15 points and Augustus Gilchrist added 11.

Cal registered 5 field goals (20.8 percent clip from the field), missed all four of its 3-point attempts and was outscored 20-2 in the paint before halftime.

South Florida’s uncharacteristic offensive surge continued in the second half along with the crippling defense. The Bulls held a 32-point lead with 8:51 to play. They didn’t maintain that margin. But they never allowed the Bears to make a BYU-like push down the stretch.

In the end, South Florida’s abrasive, unsexy defense and methodical offense resulted in the program’s first-ever tournament victory. And that’s all that mattered to Stan Heath, who ended South Florida’s stint as the only Big East team that hadn’t earned an NCAA tourney berth.

“Well, we're all thrilled. Our president, my athletic director, it's always great to keep your bosses happy, and we're thrilled. And we didn't want to just come here for one game,” Heath said after the game. “We were excited to get in here. But we did want to prove a little bit that we deserve and we belong and we're legit. And I think the kids took that to heart. But it's a building process and we took a big step in the right direction today. But we want to take some more steps as well.”

After reaching their average (59 points) with 7:09 to play, the Bulls pulled back and worked the shot clock. With a second round shot at 5-seed Temple on the line, they didn’t want to squander their sizable lead, especially after witnessing Iona blow a 25-point edge in Dayton Tuesday.

“Yeah, we just wanted to come out and stay aggressive. And last night, you know, the teams, when I watched them play in the night before, that the teams played up and down real fast and was scoring the ball,” Collins said. “But then … when they had the big lead, they still was coming down and shooting fast shots. We wanted to go down also, but also take a good shot so the other team couldn't come right back down fast and get a better shot.”

The Bears averaged 71.7 ppg entering their loss to South Florida. But South Florida held Cal’s top scorers Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe to 21 combined points and a 7-for-24 clip from the field.

The Bulls clamped Cal’s scorers with a defensive philosophy that’s carried them all season, one that’s not TV friendly but worked for them.

“We get mad when people score, no matter what kind of bucket it is,” said Rudd. “And that's what makes us have people scoring in 50, 40, because we don't like it when people score at all, not even a free throw. So we get mad at each other, and that's how we play great defense.”