TAMPA — As reputations go, USF could do worse than being a team that pulls out close wins down the stretch.
For the second game in a row, the Bulls basketball team found itself tied with less than four minutes left and, as it did Monday at Stetson, USF pulled away Friday night, getting a 9-0 run en route to a 64-53 victory against Georgia in the SEC/Big East Challenge.
"We won so many games like that in the past. That's probably going to be a signature for us," coach Stan Heath said. "It's kind of the way we play, with our goods and our bads. Fortunately for us, we have a really good point guard who makes good choices, makes good plays. … It's probably going to be a lot of those. Unfortunately, I'm going to age doing this. It's okay. I enjoy when we win."
The biggest shot in the 9-0 run was an off-balance 3-pointer to beat the shot block by Victor Rudd, coming off point guard Anthony Collins' 10th assist of the night, that gave USF a 57-50 lead with 1:59 left. From there, the Bulls hit seven of eight free throws to close out the win before an announced crowd of 5,167 in the Sun Dome.
"Rudd made a huge 3 there late in the game, which was a real dagger for us," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "We couldn't get the stops we needed to get in the second half. "
USF (5-2) had good offensive balance. Shaun Noriega, who finished with 15 points, hit three free throws to open USF's scoring, then nailed a 3-pointer with three seconds left for a 27-22 halftime lead. Another Noriega 3 had USF up 35-27, but Georgia (2-5) answered with an 8-0 run, and USF wouldn't lead by more than four until Rudd's big 3-pointer.
"Vic's known to make those, going back to the NCAA Tournament last year," said Collins, who bounced back after sitting out Monday's game with a calf injury. "I gave him the ball, and he did the rest."
Collins finished with 17 points and 10 assists, his third game with 10 or more assists in his past four games. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick had 13 points on 3-for-4 shooting on 3-pointers, and Rudd finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, including four of the game's five final boards.
"I was mad at halftime. I only had one," Rudd said. "I said I'm going to get every one of them. It worked out in the end."
Georgia, which got 19 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, had played close to top teams, losing by four to UCLA and by 13 to No. 1 Indiana.
The Bulls, who have won three in a row, play perhaps their toughest game of the nonconference season Wednesday at Oklahoma State, then get 13 days off before returning home to face Youngstown State on Dec. 18.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3346. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf. Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.