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USF Bulls top Temple Owls to advance in NCAA Tournament

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Has a second verse ever been so different from the first?

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USF missed 22 shots in a row from the field and suffered through 11 percent shooting in the first half, playing just enough defense to trail Temple just 19-15 at halftime. Then the 12th-seeded Bulls exploded, hitting 9 of their first 11 shots to open the second half.

Fifth seed Temple made a late run to cut a 14-point Bulls lead to three points, but the Bulls got a clutch 3-pointer from Victor Rudd and nine straight free throws to end it, holding on for a wild 58-44 win Friday night at Bridgestone Arena.

"I can't even explain it," freshman Anthony Collins said. "Basketball is a game of runs, so sooner or later they were going to make one. Rudd made a big shot, and after that, we just grabbed the momentum and just kept pushing to end the game strong."

And the Bulls held Temple to 32 points under its average and 20 under its previous season low. USF (22-13) matched the school record for wins and came up with the second NCAA win in school history — and in three days — sending them into Sunday's third round against 13th seed Ohio, which upset No. 4 Michigan earlier Friday.

"We're excited to see how far we can go. If we keep playing defense the way we've been doing, I don't think there's a team we should be afraid of," forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick said. "We're taking it one game at a time, but we're excited."

The Bulls took the lead back early in the second half on a 3-pointer by backup guard Shaun Noriega with 16:35 left, then got a reverse dunk from Hugh Robertson. The lead was still at five points when forward Fitzpatrick hit back-to-back 3s, and Rudd added one of his own for a 39-25, capping a 30-6 run for the Bulls.

"It feels amazing — from where we've come from to where we are now," said Noriega, who ended the streak of 22 misses with a 3-pointer late in the first half.

Collins had five assists in that pivotal run, sparking the team, and finished with 17 points. He and Rudd combined for USF's final 13 points.

How did the Bulls pull such a turnaround? Even when their shooting was record-breaking bad, the Bulls played their typical stifling defense, and limited turnovers — just four in the first half and two in the first 12 minutes of the second half. And when Temple cut the Bulls' lead to just three points, Rudd answered with a clutch 3 — banked in, no less — to give his team more of a cushion. He added another 3-pointer with 2:27 left and finished with 17 points, his fourth straight game in double figures.

USF had shot 11 percent from the field for the entire first half — 3-for-27 including 22 consecutive misses — but held Temple to just 13 field-goal attempts and forced seven turnovers to keep themselves in the game, trailing just 19-15.

That was in stark contrast to Wednesday's game, which saw USF storm to a 36-13 halftime lead, hitting 15 of their first 21 shots in one of their best offensive showings in months. The Bulls led by as many as 32 points in the second half of that game, giving them confidence in their shooting ability entering a game against a Temple team that averaged 76 points per game.

USF Bulls top Temple Owls to advance in NCAA Tournament 03/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 17, 2012 5:17pm]
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