TAMPA – Head coach Stan Heath said USF is a much better team than the version that lost to UCF in the season opener and the Bulls
backed him up Wednesday night in Orlando.
Anthony Collins and Victor Rudd each posted double-doubles
to help the Bulls beat the Knights, 65-56, to finish non-conference play with a
9-3 record. USF's rebound comes almost two months after UCF handed the Bulls a
74-56 loss in Tampa.
"We let our fans down on opening night, so the guys were
really focused," Heath said. "On the trip here, we threw the tape in of that
first game and I thought they saw how we just didn't play with the intensity
and teamwork that you needed to play with. I'm really proud of the guys."
Heath didn't know if Collins and Rudd would be able to play
in USF's rematch with UCF after both left Saturday's win over George Mason
early with scary injuries. Heath was pleasantly surprised with the outcome as Collins
posted 16 points and 10 assists, while Rudd added 13 points and 11 rebounds in
the Bulls' fourth consecutive win.
"Without those two guys I don't know what would have
happened," Heath said. "For me, it was a little unsettling not knowing who was
going to be in that lineup, especially if that little guy (Collins) is not in
Jawanza Poland continued his hot streak with a team-high 18
points and Toaryln Fitzpatrick added 10 points in a game that saw the Bulls
commit only six turnovers. USF also wound up breaking even with UCF in rebounds
(35) after the Knights outboarded the Bulls, 45-26, in the season opener.
"It was good for us to battle even with that because it
allowed us to stay in the game," Heath said.
USF had the lead for the first 14 minutes of the series'
latest installment until UCF seized the advantage during a 15-0 run. The
Knights led, 27-19, until Musa Abdul-Aleem broke USF out of its offensive
slumber with a 3-pointer with 2:25 to go before the break. Abdul-Aleem hit
another 3-pointer about a minute later and Fitzpatrick connected from long
range with four seconds remaining to send the Bulls into the half with a 28-27
"That was a huge lift," Heath said.
Collins led USF with seven points and seven assists at the
break after a neck sprain kept him out of practice this week. The sophomore was
taken off the floor on a stretcher as a precaution during the second half of
the Bulls' 61-57 win over George Mason.
Rudd, who suffered a concussion on Saturday, kept USF's
groove going from beyond the arc by opening the second half with a 3-pointer
and Poland added another to give the Bulls a 38-31 lead with 16:25 to play. Another
3-pointer and a fast-break dunk by Poland gave USF a 43-34 lead with 14 minutes
to go, and a highlight reel reverse alley-oop dunk by Rudd later made it 47-34 with
a minute later.
The Bulls had an 11-point lead with a little more than 10
minutes remaining but couldn't stop UCF from getting close down the stretch. A free
throw by Keith Clanton cut UCF's deficit to 53-52 with 3:19 to go and another
by Sykes tied up with 2:29 left. Sykes missed his second attempt, Collins was
fouled 22 seconds later put USF back ahead by making a free throw.
A 3-pointer with 1:09 to play by Fitzpatrick put USF ahead,
57-53, and Collins went 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the last minute to help
snap UCF's three-game winning streak.
Big East play for USF begins Sunday at noon when the Bulls
face Syracuse at the Sun Dome. USF set a program record with 12 wins in Big
East play last season before coming within one victory of the Sweet 16.