Bulls rout Cal for first-ever NCAA Tourney win
DAYTON, Ohio -- USF could have come in rusty, playing in its first NCAA Tournament game in 20 years.
But the Bulls were dominant from the start Wednesday night, jumping out to a 15-3 lead, extending that lead to 32 points and cruising to a 65-54 win on California for the first NCAA Tournament win in the program's history.
"We're all thrilled. Our president, my athletic director, it's always great to keep your bosses happy," coach Stan Heath said. "We didn't want to just come here for one game. ... It's a building process and we took a big step in the right direction today. But we want to take some more steps as well."
The Bulls advance to face fifth-seeded Temple on Friday night at 9:50 in Nashville. The Owls (24-10), who join the Big East next season, were the Atlantic-10's regular season champions but were knocked off by Massachusetts in their first game in the conference tournament.
The Bulls (21-13) didn't look like a bubble team, shooting 67 percent in the first half, with freshman Anthony Collins coolly hitting floater after floater - he had eight points before Cal had made its second field goal of the night. Senior Augustus Gilchrist played his best game in a month, going 4-for-5 in the first half and scoring 11 points, and guard Victor Rudd hit double-digits for the third straight game, banking in a 3 early and pulling off a high-flying dunk in the second half. He finished with 15 points.
"We always talk about getting into the paint, close shots, high percentage to make it, so basically put pressure on the defense and just attack, attack and don't settle for jump shots," Collins said.
USF didn't let up early in the second half, extending its lead to 32 points and allowing Heath to play his bench a bit more, knowing another game was just 48 hours away. Cal closed the gap late with a 29-8 run to end the game, scoring 11 points in the final 1:36 and hitting a shot with four seconds left to avoid a season low in scoring.
USF opened the game with its best half of the year, dominating on both ends. The Bulls held Cal scoreless for the final seven minutes of the half, ending it on a 14-0 run. The 13 points was the fewest USF has allowed in a first half this season, trumping the 16 allowed against Division II Florida Southern and the 17 scored by Penn State. The Bulls also came within 3 points of their highest-scoring first half this season.
Cal, meanwhile, was held to 20.8 percent from the field (5-for-24) with three of those field goals coming in a one-minute span. The Bulls committed only three turnovers against what had been the Pac-12's No. 2 team defensively. Cal coach Mike Montgomery's teams had won their first NCAA Tournament game in 11 of his last 12 appearances.
"I didn't imagine that happening," said Montgomery, whose team lost four of its last five games. "We dug ourselves a huge hole, probably as bad as I've seen us play. ... They played great. Give them credit. They were fired up. They played hard. They made shots. They made plays. We didn't."
Even a 23-point halftime lead wasn't something to bank on in Dayton -- Iona led BYU by 25 late in the first half Tuesday night and wound up losing, and Mississippi Valley State had led Western Kentucky by 15 points with seven minutes left and also lost.
The Bulls had made only two previous NCAA Tournament appearances, in 1990 and 1992, losing in the opening round both times. Wednesday's victory was USF's first postseason win of any kind since the 1995 NIT. A win against Temple would match the school record for wins in a season, set in 1982-83.