It is difficult to imagine that a team ranked 301st in scoring in the nation could be one of the top teams in the Big East, but that is just what South Florida has done.
The Bulls, perhaps the feel-good story in the league, have ridden a special defense to a 15-10 record, 8-4 in the Big East and probably put themselves in contention for an NCAA invitation.
While last in the Big East in scoring at 61.1 points a game, they are third in defense at 60.3, almost three full points ahead of their closest pursuer.
Defense has become so important that on the evening the Bulls upset a streaking and desperate Pitt team, an evening when senior guard Hugh Robertson went 7 of 7 from the field and scored a season-high 18 points, it did not matter nearly as much to him as his defense.
He had been assigned to Pitt's high-scoring guard, Ashton Gibbs, and he could read in Gibbs' eyes that he had done his job.
"He kept looking at his teammates, or he just had his head down all night," Robertson said. "That's what it's about, most definitely. That says he's beat, I conquered him. That's the main goal."
It was an interesting matchup, for Robertson at 6-6 is much larger than Gibbs and that bothered him greatly.
Gibbs was averaging 16.8 points a game as the preseason choice for the Big East's Player of the Year, but he didn't score until the second half and finished with a season-low four points on 2-of-9 shooting. It was Gibbs' lowest scoring total since he was a sophomore.
Bulls earn best Big East win percentage
--USF paid special attention to Providence's freshman LaDontae Henton, who busted out for 24 first-half points on his way to a career-high 33 in the first meeting between the teams this season. Henton went just 3-for-8 and finished with seven points in the rematch.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- The number of 3-point attempts Pitt's Ashton Gibbs managed to get off against South Florida and 6-6 defender Hugh Robertson after coming into the game with 61 made threes. He made none in the game. "I think that played a major part in me stopping him," Robertson said. "... I think my length is what did the job."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I definitely knew my time was going to come. We needed some shots at the end and my coaches and teammates have faith in me." -- G Shaun Noriega coming off the bench to hit consecutive threes and clinch a crucial victory over Providence.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Villanova, Feb. 16
KEY MATCHUPS: The teams met in the third Big East game of the season with South Florida playing one of its best games, clicking on offense while being stingy on defense. Jawanza Poland had his best game of the season, scoring 20 points. He averageed 9.6 for the year, entering the week.
Maalik Wayns led Villanova with 17. The Wildcats have lost three of their last four games, scoring a lot of points but having huge defensive problems.
--at Pittsburgh, Feb. 19
KEY MATCHUPS: South Florida just finished beating Pitt, but going to their home court is a different story. The Panthers are in a desperate situation in regard to postseason play and will be at a high pitch for this game. USF G Hugh Robertson shut down high-scoring Pitt G Ashton Gibbs in the first meeting with four points, something that doesn't figure to happen twice. Pitt is usually as good as PG Tray Woodall allows them to be. The Panthers got in trouble when he was out for an extended period due to an abdominal injury.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore G Blake Nash came out of the West, having played high school ball in California and Arizona before going to junior college for a season and then coming to South Florida. He has given them some good minutes this year. While Jawanza Poland was sitting out a suspension, he played as much as 31 minutes in a game and showed a scoring potential. He's averaging 15 minutes a game and 4.6 points.
--After not having played in four of the past six games, senior G Shaun Noriega came off the bench and hit two 3-point shots in 50 to put away a 55-48 victory over Providence.
--Freshman PG Anthony Collins has established himself as one of the Big East Conference's best free-throw shooters in his first year, hitting 81.4 percent.
"Right now I have UF, FSU, Oklahoma and Miami," said Adams. "Those are the ones sticking out."