Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF Bulls cherish reputation for 'root canal' basketball

California’s Jorge Gutierrez was the Pac-12 defensive player of the year but even he is impressed by USF, which allows 56.9 points a game.

Getty Images

California’s Jorge Gutierrez was the Pac-12 defensive player of the year but even he is impressed by USF, which allows 56.9 points a game.

DAYTON, Ohio — Stan Heath hears the critics who say USF's brand of defense-first basketball is downright ugly, and from where he's sitting, preparing for the Bulls' first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years, he appreciates the compliment.

"Ugly is in the eye of the beholder," Heath said after a Big East tournament game last week. "I love the way we play. … I don't apologize at all for how hard my guys defend. I'm proud of it. I think there's probably 90 percent of the coaches that would love to do the same thing. So there's no apologies."

The Bulls (20-13) play tonight in the first round against fellow No. 12 seed California, whose coach, Mike Montgomery, can appreciate USF's devotion to defense and the success that has come with it.

"I think it's smart," Montgomery said Tuesday. "You can win with defense. … Stan figured, 'Look, let's go defend first, let's use our size, our strength, maybe our length, and try and defend and give ourselves the best chance to win.' And that's obviously worked for him."

Louisville's Rick Pitino, whose team lost at home to the Bulls three weeks ago, compared facing USF to a root canal. The comparison brings smiles of validation to Bulls players, who relish the idea of the discomfort their defense creates without anesthesia.

"That's a Hall of Fame coach giving us a great compliment," senior center Ron Anderson said. "He's been doing this for a very long time, and that's as good a compliment as our team has received all year. … It's an honor to hear him say that."

USF is allowing 56.9 points per game, a Big East and school-record low. Heath didn't go into the season expecting defense to be such a big part of his team's identity, but it has gone hand in hand with the team's unexpected rise after being picked to finish 14th in the league by coaches in the preseason. So root canals are the plan now, every game.

"That's what we want to do: We want to disrupt you. We want to smell your breath," Heath said. "We want to get underneath your skin. We want to make life miserable for you."

The defense is stifling enough to impress Cal's Jorge Gutierrez, who was the Pac-12's defensive player of the year but said his team hasn't faced a team as defense-oriented as it does tonight.

"It's going to be a real challenge on the physical side of the game," Gutierrez said.

USF hasn't scored more than 65 in a game since January, but they closed out with seven wins playing that way. It isn't great TV, but the Bulls aren't going for ratings, so much as simple wins and the chance at another root canal.

"We're going to continue doing what we're doing, continue playing Bulls basketball and playing defense," Anderson said. "No matter how sloppy it is or unflashy it might be, we're still going to stick with our foundation and hope for the best."

USF Bulls cherish reputation for 'root canal' basketball 03/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 9:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. College football viewing guide, Week 8

    College

    Miami quarterback Malik Rosier (12) hands off to running back Travis Homer (24) during the first half of an NCAA College football game against Georgia Tech, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
  2. Little separates McElwain and Muschamp eras of futility at Florida

    College

     Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain watches the second quarter of the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville.
  3. Mikhail Sergachev scores twice as Lightning shuts out Blue Jackets (w/ video)

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mikhail Sergachev said he blacked out for a few seconds after his first NHL goal Thursday night, a rocket slap shot from the point.

    Mikhail Sergachev, front, looks like he’s very in the moment with teammate Dan Girardi after scoring his first NHL goal, though he says he blacked out for a bit. He scores again in the second.
  4. Dodgers rout Cubs 11-1 to win pennant, head to World Series for first time since '88

    Ml

    CHICAGO — Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

    The Dodgers celebrate their Game 5 victory Thursday night over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, putting Los Angeles in the World Series for the first time since 1988.
  5. Joe Smith's takeaways from Thursday's Lightning-Blue Jackets game

    Lightning Strikes

    While Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov grab the headlines, don't sleep on their linemate, Vladislav Namestnikov. Namestnikov is far from a third wheel, with eight points in eight games. "He might not have the names the other two have, but he's as pivotal and vital to that line as the others," coach Jon Cooper said.