Bulls savor conference winning streak

With two straight conference wins, Stan Heath and USF has some positive momentum in Big East play. South Florida (9-7, 2-1) hadn't won consecutive Big East games since finishing the 2009-10 regular season with three straight victories before winning its first-round game at the conference tournament. They'll try to make it three in a row Tuesday when it visits Notre Dame.

For the first time in a while, South Florida has some positive momentum in Big East play.

The Bulls rolled to a 74-57 road victory over Villanova on Thursday night. It was South Florida's second straight conference win, as the Bulls beat Rutgers 67-65 in overtime on Sunday.

South Florida (9-7, 2-1) hadn't won consecutive Big East games since finishing the 2009-10 regular season with three straight victories before winning its first-round game at the conference tournament.

South Florida will try to make it three in a row Tuesday when it visits Notre Dame.

Notre Dame (9-6, 1-1) is coming off a 71-55 loss at Cincinnati on Wednesday night. Before South Florida visits, the Fighting Irish host No. 11 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

Sophomore point guard Eric Atkins is the key player on a Notre Dame team that was hit hard by graduation, then lost leading scorer Tim Abromaitis to season-ending knee surgery after he played just two games. Atkins is averaging 13.5 points and 3.9 assists a game.

Another sophomore guard, Jerian Grant, is similar to Atkins and is averaging 13.1 points and 4.7 assists a game.

South Florida is just 1-7 against Notre Dame since joining the Big East. The Bulls lost to the Fighting Irish 78-55 at home last season. South Florida's Shaun Noriega had 23 points, including six 3-point field goals. Both figures remain his career highs. Notre Dame's Jack Cooley scored 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting, and the Irish shot 56 percent.

Besides Noreiga, the rest of South Florida's lineup struggled, as the Bulls shot just 30 percent.

TRENDING: How rare was South Florida's win at Villanova? It was just the Bulls' seventh road victory in their seven seasons in the Big East. South Florida has had only one Big East road win by a larger victory, when it beat DePaul 80-58 during the 2008-09 season. South Florida had also been 0-4 in true road games this season, losing at Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas, Auburn and Southern Mississippi in non-conference games. South Florida also handed Villanova just its second loss in its last 53 games at The Pavilion.

 

NOTES, QUOTES

--What better player to lead South Florida into the new year than the player that is supposed to lead them into the future, freshman Anthony Collins?

Coming off a hard-fought loss to the defending national champion Connecticut team, Stan Heath's Bulls stunned Rutgers, a team coming off an upset victory of its own over Florida, 67-65, when Collins made the key play that Bulls' fans expect they will see a lot of over the years.

"The plan was to come up the lane and look for (Jawanza Poland)," Collins said. "Coach said if you have an opening just go for it."

He saw the opening and went for it, hitting a basket with 12.7 seconds left and making a free throw that proved the difference when Rutgers' Eli Carter's jumper at the buzzer clanked off the rim.

Heath wanted Collins making the play for him, even if he is a freshman.

"I had a lot of confidence at the end of the game that the ball was definitely going to be in his hands," Heath said. "He was going to make the play."

And that's the way they plan for it to be at USF over the next few years. Collins had played only nine games through Jan. 2, starting seven, had averaged only 6.9 points but he had an un-freshman-like 45 assists and just 24 turnovers.

The hard-fought victory proved to payback for two very tough defeats that make the Bulls' record deceiving. They lost to national champion UConn 60-57 and to Southern Miss 53-51 before pulling out this one.

All of this, of course, is getting USF ready for what lies ahead.

"It's just gaining a lot of experience," senior Ron Anderson Jr. said. "We're going to need that when we come down to the Big East Tournament. It's good to have games like this."

--The Bulls had a lead over Connecticut before the opening tipoff. How, you ask? UConn was assessed a penalty when it didn't have its starting lineup submitted on time. Just goes to show you how valuable a coach Jim Calhoun is, as he was sitting out that game on suspension.

--The Connecticut game was unique in USF history, being the first time in their 41 years of basketball that they ever faced a defending national champion.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- The number of home losses suffered by South Florida this year, that being a three-point defeat to defending national champion Connecticut.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't have an answer for Ron Anderson. Ron enforced his will upon this game and bullied our guys." -- Rutgers coach Mike Rice, about Bulls senior Ron Anderson Jr., who scored a team-high 15 points and had six offensive rebounds in USF's 67-65 victory.

 

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FUTURES MARKET: In just his second game as Bull, sophomore transfer Victor Rudd put up 30 points, hitting 11 of 12 field goals against Marist. Rudd was the first Bull to reach 30 points since Augustus Gilchrist scored 32 against DePaul on Feb. 26, 2011. He was third on the team in scoring through Jan. 1.

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior G Jawanza Poland played what was easily the best game of his abbreviated season in Thursday night's 74-57 win at Villanova, as he tied a career high with 20 points. Poland has been limited to six games because of rehabilitation from knee surgery and a team-related suspension. He was averaging 7.0 points coming into Wednesday's game but scored in double figures for just the second time, easily exceeding his season high of 13 points, set against Cleveland State on Dec. 19. Poland also scored 20 points last season in a loss to Providence.

--Sophomore G Blake Nash had to shoulder a heavy load Thursday, as he was the only South Florida point guard left after freshman G Anthony Collins was injured in the first half and did not return. Nash responded with one of his best games. He scored 12 points and dished out a career-high six assists while committing only one turnover in 28 minutes. Nash was two points off his career scoring best of 14, which was set in a loss to Penn State on Nov. 20.

--With his second basket in the Southern Miss loss, senior Augustus Gilchrist became the 18th Bull to score 1,000 points in his career. He is the first to do it since Dominique Jones reached 1000 points two years ago.

--Senior Hugh Robertson has been a solid rebounder for South Florida, but nothing spectacular. That all changed with his performance against Florida A&M when he pulled down a career-high 21 rebounds. That is the most rebounds in the NCAA this season and tied for the ninth most rebounds in a game in Big East history.

 

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