Bulls glad to have support from MSG fans

9

March

NEW YORK -- In a tournament format where no one team has a huge fraction of the fans in attendance, it's easy for the crowd's default to be rooting for the underdogs, something that helped USF in its opening-round upset of Villanova on Tuesday night.

"There were some plays that went against us, and I could hear the crowd booing. I was like, 'Wow,'" Bulls coach Stan Heath said after his team's 70-69 upset of the 10th-seeded Wildcats. "I thought it helped our guys. They were like 'We have people here for us.' I know we had a great group of fans ourselves, but it was more the arena. I think that helps you a lot."

USF rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit Tuesday, the largest halftime deficit ever overcome in 32 years of Big East tournament basketball. And while tonight's opponent, seventh-seeded Cincinnati, will have a strong fan presence in the stands, Heath hopes the crowd remembers Tuesday night and picks up the Bulls as their team for the night.

"You've got young kids, they feel good when they get encouragement behind them," he said. "Hopefully we can be the kids from out of town that New York fans want to support."

DEJA VU: To see USF coming off an upset and playing a ranked Cincinnati team in the second round of a conference tournament, tonight's game could draw comparisons to the Bulls' upset of the No. 21 Bearcats in the second round of the Conference USA tournament in Memphis. It's one day shy of being exactly six years ago -- USF pulled off an 80-68 upset of the Bearcats, the last time the Bulls won multiple games in a conference tournament.

BIG NIGHT: USF guard Shaun Noriega -- who hit four 3-pointers in the first four minutes against Villanova -- finished with 22 points, significant because it represents the most points scored by a USF player in a Big East tournament game. Guard Dominique Jones led the Bulls in their three previous games in the tournament, but the most he scored was 21, in last year's loss to Georgetown.

USF also reset its tournament team highs for scoring (70), field-goal percentage (.447), 3-point percentage (.389) and free-throw percentage (.724).

BY DESIGN: When Villanova was at the line shooting two free throws with 12 seconds remaining, Heath called a time out, and later said he did so for two reasons. One, to "freeze" the shooter, as a coach might do before a late field goal in football, but second to call the play that point guard Anthony Crater executed for the winning layup. Crater had options to pass to Augustus Gilchrist on the left post or Noriega on the wing, but saw a clear path to the basket.

"The play was designed for me for me to come off a ball screen, but I saw the player clear the lane," Crater said. "The rim was open, so I took it."

Villanova coach Jay Wright said he liked the defensive matchup he had, with 6-foot-6 Dominic Cheek covering Crater.

"That's a 6-6 guy on a 6-2 point guard," he said. "I thought he would keep him in front of him too, but you've got to give the kid credit. He made a great play."

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 1:13pm]

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