Noriega comes off bench to spark Bulls' shooting
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When USF had gone an interminable 10 minutes without a field goal, missing 22 in a row in the first half Friday against Temple, the shot that sparked the Bulls came from a backup guard who had only recently gone eight games without hitting a shot.
Junior guard Shaun Noriega came in with 3:06 left in the half, and two possessions later, he nailed a 3-pointer to cut Temple's lead to 19-15, awaking the Bulls' shooters as the spark in a 30-6 run that was central in USF's 58-44 victory.
"Myself and Shaun and probably my whole team sense that ... we need to bring in our shooter," coach Stan Heath said. "He's our 3-point specialist, and the guys have a lot of confidence in him. ... It's unbelievable how he can come into a game and be ready to knock down a shot. I think that momentum he gave us was the initial fuel that helped us in the second half."
Noriega played 13 minutes in the second half, his most extended playing time in 17 games, and as the Bulls continued their rally in the second half, he had the 3-pointer that gave the Bulls the lead back for good.
"Shaun opened it up for us, real big," said guard Victor Rudd, who tied for the team lead with 17 points. "He hadn't played in a while, he came in and hit a shot. That's what he does. Then Toarlyn (Fitzpatrick) started hitting shots, then I started hitting shots. It was big for us."
Noriega added a free throw late and finished with seven points, matching his best total in a game since USF's Big East opener against Connecticut in December. He had hit two key 3-pointers in a 2-minute cameo late in USF's win at Providence, and hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first half Wednesday as the Bulls plulled away from California in the NCAA First Four.
"Shaun is a special kid," Heath said Friday night. "I can't blame him for wanting to play more, and (he) probably should play more, but regardless, he stays ready."
Noriega has kept himself prepared even as his role on the team has diminished, and he answered the call Friday when Heath needed a key shot to end USF's lingering first-half shooting woes.
"Our offense was stagnant, and my team needed me to make some big shots," Noriega said. "I was feeling it, was in a rhythm, and I knocked down some big shots. That was definitely a catalyst to us coming out with a lot more energy, and that kept us rolling."