Make us your home page

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 ride historic defensive strength toward possible NCAA Tournament berth


Related News/Archive

USF vs. West Virginia

When/where: noon; Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: BHSN; 1250-AM

Records: USF 19-11, 12-5 Big East; West Virginia 18-12, 8-9

Notable: West Virginia is the only Big East team the Bulls haven't beaten since joining the league in 2005, but there's much on the line today. A USF win coupled with a Georgetown loss gives the Bulls a top-four seed and a double bye in the Big East tournament, and further solidifies their position in the NCAA Tournament. … West Virginia has lost seven of 10 but has impressive Big East wins over Notre Dame (by 27) and Georgetown (by 12). Watch out for Mountaineers senior F Kevin Jones (20.0 points per game, 11.2 rebounds) and senior G Darryl "Truck" Bryant (17.1 ppg). … It's also senior day for USF, which will honor F Augustus Gilchrist, F Ron Anderson and G Hugh Robertson. Gilchrist is the team's leading scorer despite averaging just 9.93 points per game, so this could be the first Bulls team not to have a player averaging double figures in scoring. The Bulls are 14-1 at home and expect their largest crowd of the season.

Greg Auman, Times staff writer

TAMPA — Asked if there was a moment when coach Stan Heath realized he might have a special basketball team at USF this season, he recalled a time in November when he looked at his stat sheet and saw the Bulls were giving up the fewest points in the Big East.

"To me, that was a big deal. I told our team that, and it was a bigger deal for them," Heath said Thursday while preparing for today's regular-season finale against West Virginia. "And that was a lightbulb for me: 'These guys really like that.' They don't mind that being their identity and who they are."

As USF (19-11, 12-5 Big East) looks to solidify its first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years, Heath's team can do better than the best defense in the conference. In allowing 57.4 points per game, USF is on course to have the best defense in Big East history and the best ever for a Bulls team.

"It all comes down to defense," said junior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, whose team ranks No. 8 in scoring defense in Division I (Wisconsin leads at 51.8). "It's something we pride ourselves a great deal on. To be the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big East, that means a lot. We play in a very competitive league. We hang our hats on defense, and we're glad to see it paying off for us and helping us get some major wins here."

Defense has been central in USF's past seven games, during which the Bulls have held all seven opponents to 56 points or fewer and at least 19 points under their season average. Cincinnati mustered 45 points — eight under its previous low for the season — and Louisville matched its season low with 51 in a home loss Wednesday.

"That's something we should really be proud of," senior forward Ron Anderson said. "I don't want people to overlook that. Coach Heath has done a great job of trying to get the guys to buy in to defense."

Barring a letdown, USF will trump the Big East's all-time low for points allowed; Georgetown gave up 57.8 per game in 2006-07. The Bulls will easily reset the school marks for points allowed (60.1, in 1985-86), and they're holding opponents to 39.2 percent shooting, better than their record of 39.9, set in 2002-03.

A Bulls win combined with a loss by Georgetown today at Marquette (after Notre Dame's victory Friday) gives USF a top-four seed and a double bye to the quarterfinals of next week's Big East tournament, something unfathomable a month ago, given USF's history in the league. The Bulls will be seeded no lower than sixth.

"Stan doesn't get enough credit for the job he's done in a really tough situation, rebuilding this program," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said after Sunday's game. "He's one of the best defensive coaches around."

It's fitting, then, that USF's final opponent, West Virginia, has done a number on the Bulls defensively, holding USF to 59 points or fewer in all seven meetings (all Mountaineers wins) since the Bulls joined the Big East in 2005. While many pundits have said USF punched its ticket for the NCAA Tournament with the win Wednesday at No. 19 Louisville, Heath and his players are focused on continuing to build their resume.

Today is senior day for three key Bulls — Anderson, forward Augustus Gilchrist and guard Hugh Robertson — and the end of their college careers will be a different finish from a year ago, when Anderson can remember senior Jarrid Famous going out uneventfully after a 10-23 season. Every win gives them a better chance of going out the way they want to.

"We were standing on the loading dock, and (Famous) and coach just shook hands. That was it. No NIT. No (NCAA Tournament)," Anderson said. "I thought, 'Are we just done?' Now, we're going to keep on going until we can't go anymore."

. fast facts

Historic defense

USF leads the Big East in scoring defense at 57.4 points per game, on pace to set the conference record. The top-five single-season scoring defense figures in Big East history:

USF Bulls ride historic defensive strength toward possible NCAA Tournament berth 03/02/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 2, 2012 10:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays morning after: An up-and down day for Jose De Leon


    Rays RHP Jose De Leon had a busy Monday - getting called up to join the Rays for the first time and making his way from Pawtucket, R.I., to Boston and the flying to Texas, working 2 2/3 eventful innings to get the W in the 10-8 victory over the Rangers, and then getting optioned back to Triple-A.

    Jose De Leon follows through in the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on May 29, 2017.
  2. Tiger Woods says medication, not alcohol, led to DUI arrest in Florida

    Public Safety

    Players arriving for a tournament this week at Muirfield Village might notice a framed picture of Tiger Woods with a resplendent smile and bright red shirt. He's posed there with the trophy, an image that embodies the excitement he once brought to golf.

    This image provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017, shows Tiger Woods. Police in Florida say Tiger Woods was been arrested for DUI.  [Palm Beach County Sheriff's office via AP]
  3. Four key games that could decide Bucs' success in 2017


    The Bucs finished so close to making the playoffs in 2016 -- literally flip-flop the last two results and have them beat the Saints and lose to the Panthers and they're in as a wild card with the same 9-7 record -- that it's difficult to say with any certainty what will happen in the 2017 season.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, shown celebrating a touchdown against the Giants in 2015, will face New York again this fall in Week 4 in Tampa.
  4. Frank Deford wrote with sincerity, giving depth to complicated sports figures

    Human Interest

    Frank Deford practically invented the notion of multimedia: He exported his voice to radio, TV and film, and if you didn't know him you might have thought he was an actor, because he wore purple suits and looked like Clark Gable. But Frank, who died Sunday at age 78, was a writer above all things, and an important …

    In a 1991 photo, Frank Deford holds a proof of The National Sports Daily, of which he was editor and publisher [Associated Press]
  5. Clarity coming this week on Florida Gators, Malik Zaire


    After months of speculation, we could finally get some clarity this week on the Florida Gators and graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire.

    SEC flags outside the hotel of last year's spring meetings in Destin. This year's meetings could have a huge impact on the Florida Gators' season.