CINCINNATI — For 35 minutes, USF had Cincinnati, and possibly the Bearcats' NCAA Tournament hopes, on the ropes. The Bulls held an eight-point lead. The crowd at Fifth Third Arena grew restless, and national basketball pundits began tweeting about a possible upset.
But like many Bulls opponents this season, the Bearcats (21-10, 9-9 Big East) rebounded. They crashed the boards, especially on offense, to force overtime and pull out a 61-53 victory Saturday.
The Bulls led 45-37 after a Zach LeDay 3-pointer with 5:45 left in the second half. But Cincinnati closed regulation on a 10-2 run, with two offensive rebounds sparking the rally. In overtime, the Bearcats pulled down five more offensive rebounds, which led to six second-chance points.
"We are going to have to be more aggressive," USF forward Victor Rudd said. The Bearcats "were aggressive, they did what they were supposed to do and got the win."
In all, the Bearcats grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and enjoyed an 18-9 edge in second-chance points. Saturday marked the 12th time a Big East opponent grabbed at least 10 offensive rebounds on the Bulls (12-18, 3-15), who lost 10 of those.
"The thing I thought cost us the most was the rebounding," USF coach Stan Heath said. "Whether it was the rebounds and the free throws or rebounds on some of the shots that maybe we had possession or looked like we were going to get. It seemed like they got all of those 50-50 plays with a lot of those rebounds."
Cincinnati's final run also came as LeDay and Anthony Collins fouled out. Collins, the point guard, fouled out with 14 seconds left. Cincinnati's Cashmere Wright made one free throw to tie the score and force overtime. Wright finished with 15 points.
USF led the entire first half, answering each time Cincinnati pulled close. Rudd hit 4 of 6 3-pointers in the half. He finished with 22 points, and he and Kore White both had six rebounds.
Despite the loss, the Bulls still enter this week's Big East tournament with some momentum, having won two games in the past week. USF plays Seton Hall on Tuesday night. The Pirates beat USF 55-47 on Jan. 23, which started the Bulls' 10-game conference skid.
"This is our postseason and we want to make the most out of it," Heath said. "We'll have to take it one game at a time. Hopefully, we can take an excerpt out of UConn's page from a few years back" and win five games in five days.