Victory pushes Bulls closer to an NCAA bid

USF notched its best win yet Wednesday when it upset No. 19 Louisville 58-51 on the road. The Bulls improved to 19-11 overall, 12-5 in the Big East and won for the sixth time in their last seven games. Now the notion of the Bulls making theirs first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years is close to reality. Next up is a big home a game against West Virginia

The idea of South Florida making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years is becoming more realistic with each passing victory.

South Florida notched its best win yet Wednesday when it upset No. 19 Louisville 58-51 on the road. The Bulls improved to 19-11 overall, 12-5 in the Big East. They won for the sixth time in their last seven games since being blown out 75-45 at Georgetown on Feb. 4.

The Bulls were No. 45 in the RPI prior to the game, and a road win over a quality team should only improve the rating.

South Florida also remained in a three-way tie for third place in the Big East with No. 11 Georgetown and No. 20 Notre Dame. If the Bulls finish in the top four, they would gain a double bye into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament next week in New York.

South Florida can gain a double bye by beating West Virginia on Saturday in its regular-season finale and having either Georgetown lose at No. 8 Marquette, also on Saturday, or Notre Dame lose at home to Providence on Friday.

West Virginia (18-12, 8-9) needs a win to keep its flickering NCAA hopes alive. Senior forward Kevin Jones is averaging 20.1 points and 11.2 rebounds a game. Senior forward Darryl Bryant has a 17.1 scoring average, and junior forward Deniz Kilicli is scoring 11.1 points a game.

South Florida is 0-7 against West Virginia since joining the Big East for the 2005-06 season, including a 56-46 road loss last season. The Bulls' Augustus Gilchrist had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Jones scored 13 points for West Virginia.

TRENDING: South Florida is surging at the end of the regular season, yet it is doing so at a snail's pace. The Bulls have not scored more than 65 points in any of their past eight games, yet they are 6-2 in that span. Defense has been part of the reason for South Florida's success, as the Bulls have given up more than 56 points only once in those eight games. However, coach Stan Heath is playing to his team's strength by using a deliberate pace, as the Bulls don't have the players to succeed in an up-tempo game.

NOTES, QUOTES South Florida looking for some respect
--South Florida has won basketball games.
Now it is out to win respect.

The Bulls won their 11th Big East game on Feb. 26, beating Cincinnati 46-45. Normally a team with 11 victories in the Big East would have its ticket punched for the NCAA Tournament, but the experts have kept South Florida on the bubble, in part because it doesn't have a signature win over the big names in the conference but more so because it just doesn't have a big name itself.

"(Respect) is something we've got to develop," coach Stan Heath said on a recent Big East coaches' conference call. "If we had a different name on the front of our jersey there probably wouldn't be a conversation about where we belong. That's disappointing, but we have some games in front of us where all the teams have records to get into the NCAA Tournament. If we do what we're supposed to do the rest will take care of itself."

Of course, if he has to, Heath will do what it takes to let the world know about his team.

"We haven't been in the tournament forever. It's been 20 years, so we're not a known commodity. We can't just lightly knock on the door. Sometimes you have to kick it in," he said.

--South Florida's defense has been so effective that it has held five straight opponents to 51 points or fewer, all of that in Big East play. They led the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 58.1 points a game through Feb. 26.

--South Florida's Feb. 26 win over Cincinnati marked the sixth consecutive game the Bulls have held their opponent to two or more points beneath its season scoring average.

BY THE NUMBERS: 48.5 percent -- F Ron Anderson's free-throw percentage when he stepped to the free throw line and made two key free throws in the final minutes against Cincinnati on Feb. 26, giving USF a lead in its 46-45 victory.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I still think we're on a mission. I still think we know we've got to win games. I don't feel like we think we've done something or we're satisfied. That's a good thing. There's no two ways about it. This is quite a challenge." -- USF coach Stan Heath, on his team's attitude heading into the final two games of the regular season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. West Virginia, March 2
KEY MATCHUPS: West Virginia is having a difficult season and can be turnover prone. If the South Florida defense can force turnovers in front of a home crowd at the final home game of the season it could make it tough on WVU. The defense will be facing a difficult task in holding down the Mountaineers senior F Kevin Jones, the Big East leader in scoring at 20.0 points a game and rebounds at 11.0 a game. WVU, too, is a different team when senior G Truck Bryant is on.

FUTURES MARKET: If the NCAA Tournament is in South Florida's future no one would appreciate it more than senior F Ron Anderson. See, he's been there before and he's the only one on the USF roster who has. Anderson played in the 2008 tournament with Kansas State before he transferred to South Florida, helping the Wildcats upset sixth-seeded USC in the opening round. "That's why we're trying to take it day by day. I'm trying to let everyone know how blessed and fortunate we are," Anderson said. "It would really be tough for me to say my freshman year was the only year I made it. We have our goal, we have our mission, and we won't be satisfied until we reach that."

PLAYER NOTES
--Junior G Jawanza Poland provided a big spark off the bench in USF's 58-51 win at No. 19 Louisville on Wednesday, scoring a game-high 16 points in 20 minutes. It was just the second time Poland had scored in double figures in the last 10 games. Poland averaged 10.8 points in his first 10 games this season after sitting out the first 11 while recovering from offseason knee surgery. However, his scoring average is just 6.5 over the past 10 games.

--Senior F Augustus Gilchrist's scoring average dropped into single digits at 9.9 after he had eight points against Louisville. Gilchrist has failed to crack double digits in the last six games, averaging 6.5 points in that span. However, Gilchrist still leads the team in scoring, which could make South Florida a rarity -- an NCAA Tournament team without a double-figure scorer.

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