NASHVILLE — There have been flashes of real promise from Victor Rudd, like a 30-point night against Marist in his second game at USF, or when he had 24 points in the second half of a January win against St. John's.
But for sustained success, for being a consistent, reliable scoring threat, the 6-foot-7 sophomore forward didn't have that until the past two weeks. In that time he has come up huge, scoring at least 13 points in two Big East tournament games and the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament victories.
"I think his last two weeks have been really, really good," coach Stan Heath said after Rudd scored 17 in Friday's 58-44 win against Temple, the fifth seed in the Midwest Region. "He's really stepped up in a big way."
Twelfth seed USF (22-13) finds itself one win from the Sweet 16, facing 13th seed Ohio tonight in a battle of overachieving programs fresh off huge upsets.
Alongside freshman point guard Anthony Collins, Rudd has emerged in the postseason as the Bulls' best scoring option, capable of long-range shots and SportsCenter-quality dunks as well.
"Victor is playing with a lot of confidence right now," senior center Ron Anderson said. "I think him, along with everybody else on our team … as we move on in the tournament and we show ourselves that we can play the type of game we've been trying to play all year, good things are going to happen."
Rudd, who sat out last season after transferring from Arizona State, opened Friday's second-round game with a 3-pointer as the Bulls took a 5-2 lead before missing 22 shots in a row. When the Bulls found their offense, hitting 9 of 11 to open the second half, he had another 3 to give the Bulls a 14-point lead. Most important, when Temple scored 11 straight to cut USF's lead to three, Rudd came through with a key 3, sparking a 17-4 run to end the game.
"We just had a will to win," said Rudd, who went 4-for-6 on 3-pointers and 5-for-6 on free throws in the win, raising his average to 9.1 points per game. "Me and Coach have been talking all year about me finding a line between shooting a lot and shooting a little bit. I think I've found that, found that in between, where I don't take a lot of shots and I don't not shoot. I think it's going good for me right now."
Continuing that, harnessing Rudd's potential and turning him into an every-game scoring threat, is something exciting for Heath, something that has helped USF in its historic past two games and could continue to do so beyond this season.
"My dad used to come down (from his home in Michigan to watch practice), and he used to call him a gunslinger," Heath said Friday night. "When he gets it going a little bit, he can roll. He can really make some shots go in. … It's one of those things with him, where you want to let him go, and sometimes you've got to pull the reins back. But when he gets going, you've got to ride him out a little bit."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3346.