DAYTON, Ohio – The storyline surrounding South Florida all week revolved around two things: that the Bulls didn't belong in the NCAA tournament, and that they had one of the worst offenses in the field.
On Wednesday, South Florida proved it certainly was worthy of an invitation, and it did it with . . . offense?
The Bulls shot 67 percent in the field half, jumping out to a 36-13 halftime lead en route to a 65-54 win over California.
“That was hard,” Cal forward Harper Kamp said. “They made every open shot they took. It's really our fault as players for underestimating them at times. Maybe we had the wrong impression.”
South Florida came into the game shooting 31.1 percent from 3-point range, good enough to rank No. 294 in the country. While the Bulls only made 5-of-15 on the night, they knocked down three of their first four to get some separation from the Golden Bears and essentially end the game before halftime.
On top of that, South Florida outscored California in the paint in the first half, 20-2. No matter what the Golden Bears tried to do, they couldn't stop the Bulls' offense.
“We stood there and allowed people to shoot,” Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said. “And we couldn't keep the ball out of the paint.”
Anthony Collins (12 points) constantly sliced through the defense, getting wide-open interior looks for South Florida's mammoth frontline. When the Bulls are knocking down shots, they look like a very effective offensive team. Collins is a stud point guard who is impossible to turn over, and Jawanza Poland is a shooter and athlete on the wing. Augustus Gilchrist, Ron Anderson and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick form a long and strong trio down low, and Victor Rudd has an extremely high ceiling.
On paper, this should be a good offensive group, and they finally showed it on Wednesday night.
Head coach Stan Heath said the pressure he put on his players during the final month of the season probably contributed to their paltry offensive performances down the stretch. With the worry of getting into the NCAA tournament no longer a factor, South Florida looked loose – and dangerous.
“We've got some talent out there, and I think you'll see us playing more like that,” Heath said. “We have some weapons.”
Heath's troops form one of the best defensive teams in the field, using their length and physicality to create problems for opponents inside and outside the arc. If the Bulls' defense can keep them in games, their newfound offense could put them over the top.
South Florida has already clearly convinced people it belonged in the tournament, and it's getting close to changing opinions about its offense too.
“If we take our time and get great shots on offense, we can beat anyone,” Collins said. “People can think what they want.”