DAYTON, Ohio -– Instant analysis from Wednesday night’s matchup between South Florida and California, both 12-seeds.
Overview: South Florida’s game plan has remained the same all season. Make opponents play their grind-it-out, rugged, low-scoring style.
They set a Big East record by holding opponents to 56.9 ppg. But the Bulls had only averaged 59.2 ppg on offense entering their matchup against Cal.
So it was shocking to see the Bulls register 36 in the first half of their 65-54 victory over the Bears. Their tough defense was far less surprising (Cal shot 36 percent from the field. ) But the Bulls were on pace to score nearly 80 points during the first half, a complete contrast to the way they’ve played all season.
Cal embarrassed itself. They took bad shots as USF amassed a double-digit lead in the first half. They played soft. The Bears only scored 13 points in the first half (5-for-24 from the field, 0-for-4 from the 3-point line). And they couldn't recover from that deficit in the second half even as South Florida's offensive pace returned to normal levels.
You have to give the Bulls credit for their pressure. It was the program’s first NCAA tournament victory.
Turning point: USF could sense how timid the Bears were to start the game. Cal didn’t like USF’s relentlessness on defense and they backed down. The Bulls took advantage early and were up 15-3 with 13:03 remaining on the game clock. At halftime, they were up 36-13.
Key player: Victor Rudd Jr. had 15 points and six rebounds. He was 7-for-10 from the field. Three Bulls recorded double figures.
Key stats: The Bears were 3-for-15 from the 3-point line. South Florida went 28-for-49 from the field.
Miscellaneous: I know South Florida plays ugly, but if the Bulls maintain this success on offense, then they could be a Sweet 16 team. Temple and Michigan (if the Wolverines beat Ohio) might have trouble with this style.
What’s next: The Bulls will face Temple in the second round of the NCAA tournament.