Final loss is hardest for Bulls' seniors
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As USF coach Stan Heath lamented the end of his team's improbably NCAA Tournament run, he was most sad to say goodbye to three seniors who were central in the Bulls' rewriting of their program's history in the last few weeks.
"It's hard to lose some guys that set a great foundation for our program going forward, our seniors," said Heath, who praised the efforts of starters Ron Anderson, Augustus Gilchrist and Hugh Robertson.
Anderson sat in a quiet USF locker room, coming to terms with the end of a memorable season, even if it had come far later than analysts and even fans might have expected it to end.
"It's tough because this group of guys really did something special this year," Anderson said. "They fought through all the adversity, people always doubting us. We were picked 14th in our league and we tied for fourth. Nobody thought we'd make it to the tournament and we won two games. We always fought through adversity as a family."
Gilchrist scored USF's first six points and finished with 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting, and Anderson went 3-for-3 for six points and six rebounds; Robertson didn't score in his final game, but it was the loss and the realization of the end of something special that hurt him Sunday night.
"For us to make a run like we did, then have to go out like this, it's pretty tough," said Robertson, who unabashedly embraced the team's defense-first identity. "This is my last year here, so it's really hard on me, to think about being away from these guys. I really love these guys, and I'm going to miss them."
The seniors leave with the consolation of knowing they changed the perception of their program nationally, having not only made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years, but to validate that with two wins in three days, falling just short of a trip to the Sweet 16.
"I know they're not going to rank us last anymore in the newspapers," Gilchrist said. "For the teams that come after us, we set a good foundation for what's to come."
Heath said this year's team is a testament to the leadership of its seniors, so while they may have set something larger in motion for USF's future, he was sad to see their college stories come to a close Sunday night.
"I wish I could have felt this way next weekend or the weekend after that," Heath said. "I love these kids. You know, I don't get to coach Ron Anderson, Gilchrist and Hugh, (walk-on Alberto Damour). I don't get to coach those guys again. That's hard. That's hard to think about."