The Bulls’ gritty brand of basketball produced a smooth second-round Big East tournament win Wednesday night.
Anthony Collins (Courtesy of USF)
The Big East’s best scoring defense clamped down on Villanova in the Bulls’ 56-47 victory that sent them to their first Big East quarterfinal. USF (20-12, 13-6) advanced to Thursday’s 9 p.m. game against No. 3 seed Notre Dame back at Madison Square Garden.
“It's definitely a step in the right direction, and it shows that our program has improved quite a bit,” head coach Stan Heath said. “You know, we want more. We're still very hungry.”
USF came in allowing just 57.2 points per game and held the Wildcats to 17 field goals (34 percent). Villanova went 3-for-16 from 3-point range and committed 11 turnovers.
The Bulls have now held their past nine opponents to at least 18 points under their season scoring averages. USF has held each foe under the 60-point mark as well.
“I think the trust level on our defense is extremely high, and that's why I think we are so effective,” Heath said.
Wednesday’s victory marked the Bulls’ fourth consecutive win over Villanova, including a 70-69 triumph over the Wildcats in last season’s Big East tournament. USF (20-12, 13-6) won this season’s first meeting, 74-57, in Philadelphia on Jan. 5 and handed Villanova a 65-51 loss in Tampa on Feb. 15.
“It's hard to beat a team three times. Villanova, they're very aggressive, and it's hard to run anything,” Heath said. “But our defense is what's got us here where we are right now, and we've got to hang our hat on it.”
Points were hard to come by for both teams Wednesday but freshman point guard Anthony Collins led USF with 17 points and Victor Rudd Jr. added 13.
The Bulls led, 27-17, at the half and it could have been much more.
USF started the game on a 12-2 run and had a 19-6 advantage about 8 minutes into the game. Rudd had a lot to do with it by making four of his first six shots for 10 points during the time frame. He was the lone player in double figures at the break.
“He came out on fire, and we needed that,” said Heath of Rudd. “We needed somebody to jump-start us a little bit, and I thought he did a great job of attacking the basket.”
The Wildcats (13-19, 5-14) roared back and Maurice Sutton’s layup cut USF’s lead to 23-17 with less than 3 minutes remaining in the half.
USF had just two field goals in the final 9 minutes of the half, but was bailed out by its trademark defense. Villanova went 5-for-25 (20 percent) from the field including a 0-for-7 performance from the 3-point line.
The Bulls led by as many as 13 points in the second half, but the game remained tight for most of the final period.
James Bell gave Villanova its first 3-pointer of the game with 13:47 remaining and Maalik Wayns’ acrobatic layup followed to cut the USF’s lead to 37-30.
It was a six-point game until Collins’ jumper gave the Bulls a bit of breathing room with 6:36 remaining. Collins helped put the game away with 2:06 left when his floater in the paint gave USF a 46-35 lead.
What perhaps hampered Villanova the most was its inability to make free throws down the stretch. The Wildcats didn’t make any of its five free throw shots inside of 10 minutes remaining.
USF, on the other hand, was right on target inside in crunch time. The Bulls led, 46-40, when Collins stepped to the free throw line and sank both shots.
Villanova’s Mouphtaou Yarou made things interesting when his 3-pointer made it a five-point game with 1:01 remaining. The bucket also bailed the Wildcats out of tying for the Big East record for lowest points in a game (40, twice).
Collins made two of three free throws after Yarou’s deep jumper, Villanova’s Ty Johnson missed a 3-pointer and Rudd put the game away with another free throw that gave USF a 50-43 lead with 37 seconds remaining.
Courtesy of USF Sports Information