South Florida guard Radenko Dobras, still nursing a bum right ankle that has hampered him the past month, was having one of those nights uncharacteristically, a lousy one.
The Bulls' leading scorer was 0-of-10 from the floor and had just two free throws in the first 35 minutes against Metro Conference foe Louisville.
But with the Bulls down 62-57, Dobras slashed to the basket and sank a shot. He scored seven more points in the final four minutes, including the coup de grace free throws, as USF upset the Cardinals 69-66 Thursday night at the Sun Dome.
"I still had pain in my ankle when I went up for shots," said Dobras, who had a season-high 10 assists to become the Bulls' all-time leader in that category with 484. "Those last three, four minutes, I forgot about everything and just tried to put the ball in.
"I just tried to get it done."
But Dobras was far from the lone hero for the Bulls (13-8, 2-5), who snapped a two-game conference losing streak and beat their first quality team _ the Cardinals (14-7, 4-4) had 31 votes in the latest Associated Press poll _ in more than a month.
Senior center Gary Alexander had 17 rebounds and 15 points, including an 8-foot bank shot that gave USF the lead for good, 67-66, with eight seconds left.
Senior forward Bobby Russell had a season-high 13 points despite injuring his left knee, the one that needed major reconstructive surgery in 1987. The injury turned out to be strained tissue, unrelated to the surgery.
Junior guard Derrick Sharp had 17 points, going 5-of-11 from three-point range to tie Dobras' single-season record of 72. He had three of those in the opening minutes of the second-half as USF erased a 40-31 halftime deficit with a 20-4 run.
"He (Dobras) was contributing tremendously in other ways, but great players have a way of coming through," USF coach Bobby Paschal said. "But a lot of people made big plays."
The Bulls began the second half on a rampage, capped when Russell hit a layup, even though he was mauled by the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Brian Hopgood.
"I was scared," Russell said. "I couldn't move my leg. Ever since I came back, I haven't had any problems. But he hit me in my face and my knee just twisted."
Seldom-used sophomore forward Jarvis Jackson replaced him and hit the free throw to give USF a 51-44 lead with 13:36 left as the homecoming crowd of 10,047 sensed a big victory.
But just as they did in the first half, the Cards rallied behind Everick Sullivan and took a 62-55 lead with 5:41 left. Alexander drew a foul, but missed both free throws. Russell kept the ball alive, though, setting the stage for Dobras' driving leaner that ignited a 7-0 USF run that tied it at 62.
Sullivan, who finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds, gave Louisville a 64-62 lead with 66 seconds left when he scored on an alley-oop layup. But Dobras answered with a short fallaway baseline jumper, drawing the foul from Sullivan. His free throw gave USF the lead.
Louisville's James Sullivan hit a short jumper over Dobras with 29 seconds left for a 66-65 lead. Working for the final shot, Dobras drove along the right baseline, was trapped and spied Alexander open on the wing.
After a timeout, Cornelius Holden threw the inbounds pass off James Brewer's shoulder and Dobras, bad ankle and all, won the race to the ball. After Dobras' two free throws, freshman guard Keith LeGree's 35-foot shot at the buzzer was well short.
"We did a good job on Dobras; he hadn't done anything," Louisville coach Denny Crum said. "But when it counted, he stepped up."