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Bulls grind out key 56-47 win over Villanova

7

March

NEW YORK -- It wasn't necessarily pretty, but this was exactly how USF has won 20 games this season -- grinding out a slow, patient win with record-breaking defense.

USF jumped out to a big lead early and never let Villanova closer than five points, picking up a huge 56-47 win to solidify their NCAA Tournament resume in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. USF closed out the win by going 10-for-12 on free throws in the final 1:06.

"Fifty-six? That's a high-scoring game for us," joked coach Stan Heath, whose defense held its ninth straight opponent to less than 60 points. "It's hard to beat a team three times, but our defense is what got us here where we are right now and we have to hang our hat on it. I'm really proud of the effort the guys gave out there on the court."

USF (20-12) advances to play third-seeded Notre Dame at 9:30 tonight in the quarterfinals. Villanova (13-19) lost to the Bulls for the fourth time in less than a year. Defensively, the Bulls held Villanova to three of their four lowest scoring totals of the season. The Big East tournament record for fewest points is 40, and Villanova didn't get there until 1:11 was left in the game.

Freshman point guard Anthony Collins continued to show poise beyond his age, scoring a team-high 17 points to go with four assists. He hit an open shot to give USF an 11-point lead with two minutes to play, then went 5-for-6 at the line the rest of the way.

The Bulls came in having won six of eight games to put themselves in strong position for their first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years. A home loss to West Virginia on Saturday put the Bulls closer to the NCAA bubble, putting pressure on the Bulls to hold seed and advance to today's quarterfinals after earning a bye from Tuesday's opening round.

USF guard Victor Rudd came out on fire, hitting a 3-pointer and a 3-point play in the first 90 seconds. He added a high-flying baseline dunk and had 10 quick points to give USF a 12-2 lead six minutes in. The Bulls didn't let Villanova get closer than six points, closing out the half with four points for a 27-17 lead.

"Being down 10 to them is like being down 20 or 25 to someone else," coach Jay Wright said. "I thought South Florida's defense was outstanding, but that's not a surprise to anyone that's seen them this year. They're going to do damage in the NCAA Tournament, because they play a style of basketball that's difficult to play against."

USF's defense, on pace for the lowest points allowed in Big East history, didn't disappoint, holding Villanova to 20 percent shooting -- take away Yarou's 3-for-5 effort and the rest of the team shot 10 percent (2-for-20) from the field, including an 0-for-8 showing from leading scorer Maalik Wayns.

"We rely on our defense for so many things, and it came through for us," Rudd said.

USF came in with the challenge of beating a team for the fourth time in less than a year -- they upset the Wildcats in last year's tournament on March 8, then swept them in two double-digit wins in the regular season. Villanova hadn't lost three times to the same team in one season since Syracuse swept them in 1987, and USF hadn't beaten one team three times in a season since Charlotte in 1990.

It's the third year in a row USF has won its opening game in the tournament, but it's their first trip to the quarterfinals. The Bulls lost to Notre Dame by 11 in South Bend in their only regular-season meeting. With their 20 wins, USF matched the second-best total in school history, matching the 2009-10 Bulls and two wins behind the school record of 22, set in 1982-83.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2012 12:25am]

    

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