USF showed ugly is beautiful, especially if you like to take the gloves off and go at it bare-fisted.
The Bulls softened the belly of Villanova by pounding the ball inside and then showed their finesse with some athletic moves and buried a couple long daggers from 3-point land en route to a 65-51 victory Wednesday night.
The win makes USF 16-10 overall and 9-4 in the Big East.
So let’s talk!
This team could give the USF men their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992.
The Bulls don’t fear any team or any man, which is why they don’t shy away from talking about what it might take to get into the Big Dance.
USF head coach Stan Heath encourages the conversation.
“The players talk about it, and there is no reason for me not to bring it up,” Heath said. “I want to help them understand what they have to do to make it. We don’t know the magic recipe to get there, but we know winning will get us there.”
The opponents you beat are important, and with five games left in the regular season and then the Big East tournament, USF could help its cause with a win on the road against Syracuse or Louisville.
The Bulls’ problem right now is quality wins.
They have yet to notch a victory over a team that has a winning record in the conference with their “quality win” coming against Seton Hall (7-7 Big East), which was ranked 24th at the time.
Their conference losses have come against nationally ranked Marquette, Georgetown and Notre Dame and defending national champion Connecticut. There were also some “bad” losses to Old Dominion, Penn State and Auburn, which doesn’t sit well with the NCAA selection committee.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who makes annual pilgrimages to the NCAA Tournament, says those numbers shouldn’t mean anything.
“They are definitely an NCAA-caliber team, and when you come out of our conference you usually do well in the tournament. You get a chance to do some damage,” Wright said. “I love their toughness and unselfishness. Their point guard (Anthony Collins) does a great job of controlling the ball and getting it to the right people in the right places.”
The two biggest obstacles for USF is that the Big East is considered to be down this year and the Bulls suffered some losses early in the season that could prove fatal. But they weren’t at full strength, and that’s an argument the selection committee has used to get teams in that didn’t seem well-dressed enough for the dance.
And there are the intangibles. Despite not having a home arena this year, the Bulls are 13-1 in Tampa. They are second in the Big East in scoring defense (allowing 58.9 ppg) and have given up only 70 or more points three times and never allowed more than 78.
Villanova (11-14, 4-9) was missing leading scorer Maalik Wayns (17.8), out with a knee injury. But the Wildcats’ roster had three McDonald’s All-Americans, a Parade Magazine All-American and a former New York state player of the year.
USF has a bunch of no-name guys. Only Augustus Gilchrist (10.8 ppg) is averaging double figures, and there are four other guys averaging 8.3 to 9.5 ppg.
Gilchrist and Hugh Robertson led the way against Villanova with 14 points apiece, while Collins and the Bulls’ high-flying Jawanza Poland scored 10 apiece.
The defense held Villanova to 30.2 percent shooting (16-for-53). The Wildcats came into the game ranked first in Big East, averaging 40.3 rebounds per game, and first in defensive rebounds, averaging 26 per game. They got 16 defensive rebounds and 30 overall.
“We got some pretty good bigs also,” Collins said. “When we started winning, people said those games were flukes. We don’t worry about that. If we keep winning, the postseason will take care of itself.”
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.