Bulls' Anderson hoping for return to NCAAs
TAMPA -- It's been 20 years since USF men's basketball was last in the NCAA Tournament, but as the Bulls make a final push for a long-awaited return, one player has been to the promised land they seek.
Senior Ron Anderson played in the 2008 NCAAs as a freshman at Kansas State, helping the young Wildcats upset sixth-seeded Southern Cal in the opening round, and that taste is a motivating factor as he tries to lead the Bulls to their ultimate goal.
"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," said Anderson, preparing Friday for Sunday's noon tipoff against Cincinnati at Tampa Bay Times Forum. "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."
The idea of USF making the tournament, a year after going 10-23 and 3-15 in the Big East, would have seemed farfetched last year, but at the Big East tournament, where USF knocked off Villanova in the opening round then lost badly to Cincinnati, Anderson turned to his fellow rising seniors, Augustus Gilchrist and Hugh Robertson, and told them what the Bulls were capable of doing.
"I looked at Gus and looked at Hugh and I said we were going to make the tournament," he said. "I know some of the guys in that locker room, probably after that game and after that season, were like 'There's no way.' I really felt that, and going into the summer working out, going in preseason working out, building that chemistry with the team, I knew we were going to be a good team."
Anderson is second on the team with 5.7 rebounds per game and fifth in scoring at 7.7 points, but he's a player Stan Heath challenges to set the tone when it comes to rebounding presence. In his first NCAA Tournament game four years ago, Anderson stepped up as a Kansas State freshman, going for 10 points and eight rebounds against USC.
The 6-foot-8, 237-pound senior has a familiar challenge today in a key bubble matchup against Cincinnati -- Bearcats forward Yancy Gates, who checks in at 6-9, 260 pounds. USF's season ended last year in a 26-point loss to Cincinnati, where Gates went 10-for-11 and finished with a game-high 25 points; the Bulls were outrebounded 32-24 as well.
Cincinnati is coming off a big win against Louisville, giving USF a prime opportunity for a quality top-50 win at Tampa Bay Times Forum -- the Bulls are 13-1 as the home team this season. The Bearcats often run a four-guard lineup with Gates in the post, and Heath's challenge is knowing when to use Anderson -- perhaps his best help defender -- to hedge on defense without leaving the post open.
And while Anderson has been there, it's been a long time since anyone else with USF has been to the NCAA Tournament, so Heath is savoring this final stretch and the opportunity it presents his players.
"We've put ourselves in a good position. It's great to be playing games that have a lot of meaning," Heath said. "I'm excited about it. The players are excited about it. We're not looking at it as pressure. It's great to be a part of this, because we haven't been very often."