Sports

Commentary | Blue-collar Bulls earn respect from Big East

TAMPA

These guys don’t care who scores or gets his name in the paper. They are a blue collar through and through.

It’s the reason the University of South Florida men’s basketball team was able to go on a 14-3 run at the end of the game and pull out a 56-55 victory over 24th-ranked Seton Hall on Friday night at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

It was the first time USF beat a ranked team in nearly two years going back to Feb. 3, 2010, when it defeated seventh-ranked Georgetown. The Bulls don’t panic. They don’t get down. It’s not in their DNA.

A lot of things make them hungry and unafraid of failure. The most important is that nearly all are living a second chance.

Four of the five Bulls who started Friday’s game began their careers at another school.

Victor Rudd was at Arizona State, Ron Anderson Jr. at Kansas State, Gus Gilchrist at Maryland and Hugh Robertson in junior college. Super sub Jawanza Poland went to two junior colleges.

They were told in some way or another they weren’t good enough to dream their dreams. Gilchrist wasn’t even sure where he should be and got caught in a traffic jam between Virginia Tech and Maryland before landing at USF after signing with the two previous schools.

In some ways, USF has become a rehabilitation center to resurrect basketball careers. But with a $35 million-renovated Sun Dome scheduled to open next season, that might be changing.

These guys played like that had a stake in that investment and in a lot of ways they do. They sure made school officials feel good about how they have spent that money.

It’s been a challenge USF head coach Stan Heath has had to deal with since he took over the program five years ago.

He doesn’t just have to teach X’s and O’s. He has to sooth bruised egos and piece together shattered dreams that fell apart in places like Tempe, College Park and Lawrence.

Heath has to sprinkle a dose of John Wooden and Sigmund Freud on his personality and add a touch of Bobby Knight when the situation calls for it.

“To beat a ranked team is huge. We had a couple of opportunities and couldn’t cash in and wanted to get one at home,” Heath said. “It was something we had to do because we want to have a good year. The difference with this team and the others is that we have more depth and are fresher at the end.”

The Bulls are 10-8 overall and 3-2 in the Big East. Seton Hall (15-3) was 4-1 in the conference with its only loss to top-ranked and undefeated Syracuse.

Have the Bulls arrived? They played like it, making an announced crowd of 3,805 sound like the Cameron Crazies in the last minute.

People are starting to think NCAA tournament, and no one is snickering.

USF’s leading scorer was Ron Anderson (14 points), the only Bull in double figures, which is becoming the norm. The way this team plays defense that is all it usually needs.

The 55 points were the second lowest for Seton Hall all season behind the 49 it scored against Syracuse. The key was USF had 14 second-chance points to only two for the Pirates. The Bulls had only two turnovers in the second half after committing 12 in the first 20 minutes.

“We just feel blessed. Our guys hung tough and made a lot of big plays at the end,” Heath said. “They have a stud at point guard (Jordan Theodore) and we were able to contain him holding him to 16. For us Anderson was a beast and Rudd gave us a lot of energy.”

The best thing about USF’s defense is its adaptability. Down the stretch the Bulls went to a 1-3-1 with Rudd on top harassing Theodore and taking him out of his game. Offensively freshmen point guard Anthony Collins (6 assists) continues to play like a veteran.

These Bulls are not a mirage. They have speed, size and a slick point guard.

“Their length really bothered us. It’s the first time we played a team with that length since Syracuse,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. “We’ve played West Virginia, Connecticut and Syracuse and from that I believe they are a Big East top tier team, especially in this building. They went to that 1-3-1 and took us out of our rhythm. They can bang with anybody with their size and Collins is going to be a real good point guard.”

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-2112.

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