By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - The Bulls knew wins would be out of their reach if things didn't improve on the boards following a season-opening loss to UCF and Victor Rudd knew he had to take charge after watching his team get outrebounded by a 45-26 margin.
"Coach was harping on it the whole week and I just told myself I have to be the guy that gets it started and make it contagious for the rest of the guys," Rudd said.
USF has been outrebounded just twice in the eight games that followed the loss to the Knights while Rudd has been a consistent force around the basket. The redshirt junior leads USF with 8.2 boards per game put on a clinic in the Bulls' 72-54 win over Youngstown State on Tuesday night. A career-high 16 rebounds accompanied a season-high 16 points for a player that's motivated to keep his groove going.
"It makes me feel good as a player because when I rebound everything else comes easy," Rudd said. "I put an emphasis on that. I want to be the leading rebounder the rest of the year, so I have to go get it."
Noriega has a stress fracture in his foot and Heath said the senior will be re-evaluated after Christmas to see if the injury has improved. Noriega is averaging 8.4 points and he's second on the team with 13 3-pointers, so head coach Stan Heath was a little concerned about how the Bulls would produce without one of their top scorers.
"I didn't how that would affect us offensively because (Noriega) gives us that super threat from the outside shooting the ball," Heath said.
USF responded by making eight 3-pointers and a hitting 44.1 percent of its shots against a Penguins team that had allowed 47.6 points per game in three straight wins heading into the matchup.
Hawkins has been dealing with back issues and was examined after USF's loss at No. 23/22 Oklahoma State on Dec. 5. The freshman guard is expected to miss Friday's 7 p.m. home game against Bowling Green.
Bulls' Defense Dominates After Break
USF knew Kendrick Perry could be a problem heading into Tuesday's game and Youngstown State's leading scorer was a big one in the first half with 14 points and four 3-pointers.
"As a coach we're telling them how good this kid is, but until he gets out there, you don't know it," Heath said.
Perry's second half was a much different story as the junior guard missed the only shot he took from the field and added one point to his total before fouling out with 5:49 to play. The Penguins missed all 10 of their field goal attempts after Perry's exit.
"I thought our players did a much better job in the second half of guarding him, making him work harder and kind of trying to fatigue him," Heath said.
Big East Season Is Almost Here
USF begins its Big East run at Sunday, Jan. 6 at the Sun Dome against No. 3 Syracuse and fans can purchase tickets for the Bulls' conference home games HERE or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Tickets also can be purchased at any Ticketmaster outlet or at the Sun Dome ticket office located at Gate A.