Monday, June 18, 2018
Sports

USF Bulls prove again you can't give up on them

NASHVILLE — Gave up, did you?

Went to bed, did you?

Decided it was just too ugly to suffer through, did you?

Well, good morning. And lift your coffee cup to toast the Bulls, still alive and still dreaming.

They won again, and now they are one victory away from a journey to the Sweet 16.

This one defied belief. This one challenged faith. This one ruined eyesight. And yet, the Bulls found a way to win again, 58-44 over fifth-seeded Temple. After one of the ugliest first halves in the history of college basketball, after a half in which it seemed as if Robert McCullum had resumed control of the USF program, after a half in which it looked as if it would soon be time to turn out the lights on the season, the Bulls won.

Somehow.

For 30 minutes, 12th-seeded USF was falling off a cliff, and by the time you braced for the splatter, it had learned to fly. Call it the greatest makeover in team history. One minute, the Bulls were being embarrassed by Temple, and the next, they were the ones doing the embarrassing.

To sum up: The Bulls overcame the Owls, and they overcame themselves, and they overcame an 11-point deficit, and they overcame 11 percent first-half shooting, and they overcame another one of those staggering scoring droughts that has haunted them throughout the season.

This is what they do. For all of their other attributes — the way they defend, the way they rebound, the way they compete — this might be the most important. Along the way, the Bulls can overcome a lot of ugly. A sputtering offense seems to be USF's natural habitat. Other teams might get unnerved when the points are not coming, but USF seems as comfortable as a snake in a bog.

Friday night, the first half challenged your senses. No USF game has looked this ugly, and no USF offense has smelled this bad. The Bulls hit their first two shots, then they missed 22 in a row. For the fourth time this season, they had a nine-minute span where they didn't score a point. For goodness sake, you could put boxing gloves on a college basketball team, and it should manage not to miss 22 straight shots.

And yet, Temple led only by four points. Maybe that should have been a hint because if USF has proved nothing else this season, it has proved it is harder to kill than Rasputin.

"We played so poorly in the first half," Bulls coach Stan Heath said. "We couldn't make anything. 'Hey, we're only down by four. We're only shooting 11 percent, so we can't get any worse.' I thought the energy level on offense and defense really picked up."

Yes, energy is good. But how do you explain the rest of it? How can a team be so bad in one half and so good in the next? How can it miss 22 in a row in one half then hit nine of its first 11 shots of the second? It is mystifying. It was as if someone turned on the lights and widened the rims for USF's shooters.

It doesn't matter how much basketball you have seen. It's a safe bet you have never seen a team improve its shooting by 49.8 percent from the first half (11.1 percent) to the second (60.9 percent). Here's another stat: After trailing 19-8 in the first half, USF outscored the Owls 50-25.

The Bulls aren't about stats, though. They're about a journey. If you judge by the first 30 minutes of the Cal win on Tuesday and the last 20 against Temple, USF is starting to look like a team that has the makings of causing a little trouble in this tournament. If the Bulls can shoot only a little bit, they are tough enough, resilient enough to be one of those rare teams that makes a name for itself. You know, like George Mason back in 2006, or VCU in 2011, or Butler in 2010 or Gonzaga in 1999. If the Bulls can get past Ohio on Sunday and reach the Sweet 16, they will be remembered as one of those unexpected teams making a name for themselves.

The thing is, most of those schools were overachievers from underappreciated conferences. USF? It's one of those rare teams from the dregs of a power conference that has learned to run, and to dunk, almost overnight.

Savor this, then. Appreciate the stubbornness of a team that will not go away no matter how bad the situation looks.

The Sweet 16? You had that in your bracket, right?

No? How about this? The Bulls have lasted longer than Duke in this tournament, and Missouri, and UConn, and Michigan, and West Virginia. They just keep grinding, winning games and winning over the skeptics.

Just a hint, but they're worth staying up to appreciate, don't you think?

Comments

Captain’s Corner: Tips on targeting American Red Snapper

American Red Snapper (ARS) season opened a few days ago and some types of bottom are holding bigger schools of ARS then other bottom types. The hard bottom areas that most fishermen prefer are holding large schools of ARS, but the fish have yet to m...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

After winning Sunday to avoid a four-game sweep by the hot Yankees in New York, the Rays face arguably a tougher challenge tonight when they face a sizzling Astros team that just completed a 10-0 roadtrip and has won 11 straight overall.The Rays are ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz abruptly stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after failing to agree to terms on a new contract, a stunning move that left the newly minted Stanley Cup champions without a coach with the draft later this week and wit...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

TAMPA — Iceland isn't what it used to be. Literally. The Nordic island country is shrinking, what with global warming. Iceland's glaciers are getting smaller. If you took all that ice and laid it end to end, well, you clearly have nothing bette...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Will Gholston is painfully honest about a 2017 season that wasn't anything close to what he wanted it to be. Ask him about last year, and there are no parentheses in his world to soften what he remembers here."I just played (crappy), completely. That...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Former U.S. players not cool with Landon Donovan championing Mexico

Former U.S. players not cool with Landon Donovan championing Mexico

MOSCOW — Mexico is in the World Cup, the United States is not, and to former U.S. national team star Landon Donovan, American fans without a rooting interest should support their chief rivals.Saturday morning, in a tweet sponsored by Wells Fargo, Don...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Ex-Bucs WR Lawrence Dawsey worked with team during OTAs

Ex-Bucs WR Lawrence Dawsey worked with team during OTAs

The Bucs had four extra coaches during organized team activities last month as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, including former Tampa Bay receiver Lawrence Dawsey.Dawsey, 50, played for the Bucs from 1991-95, finishing his time ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
As USF-Yuengling bond grows, is SEC’s alcohol stance slowly shifting?

As USF-Yuengling bond grows, is SEC’s alcohol stance slowly shifting?

USF's expanded partnership with Yuengling — including naming rights to the Sun Dome — is only the latest part in an evolving relationship between college sports and alcohol, as my colleague, Joey Knight, wrote on the front page ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

The Lightning re-signed goaltender Eddie Pasquale to a one-year, two-way contract general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.Pasquale, 27, split this past season between the Syracuse Crunch and Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League. He...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays drop three of four in New York

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays drop three of four in New York

The Rays lose three of four games in New York as Rick Stroud says they fail to figure out the Yankees' pitching. With Christian Arroyo injured, they activate Adeiny Hechavarria — one of the stars of Sunday's win — from the disabled list a...
Updated: 8 hours ago