South Fla works over Cal 65-54 in NCAA tourney

Every air ball and swatted shot sent another chill into a

California team that had never seen anything like it.

Must have made the other teams in South Florida’s bracket

shudder just a bit, too.

The Bulls introduced the Big East’s nastiest defense to the NCAA

tournament on Wednesday night, allowing only 13 points in the first

half of a 65-54 victory over a California team that went long

stretches without a single point.

The Bulls swarmed `em, bumped `em and swatted their shots away –

those that weren’t air balls, that is.

California (24-10) didn’t score over the last 8:55 of the first

half, missing 10 shots and turning it over twice while South

Florida pulled ahead 36-13.

”We just didn’t have any energy,” California guard Allen

Crabbe said.

Yep, the Bulls stole that away, too.

Guard Jorge Gutierrez, the Pac-12 player of the year, was held

to 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. California managed only five

field goals in the first half, when three of their points came off

free throws.

”I didn’t imagine that happening,” California coach Mike

Montgomery said. ”We dug ourselves a huge hole in the first half,

and that’s probably as bad as I’ve seen us play. We weren’t doing

much of anything.”

Ugly, ugly, ugly. Just the way South Florida likes it.

”We get mad when people score, no matter what kind of bucket it

is,” said South Florida’s Victor Rudd, who 15 points. ”And that’s

what makes us have people scoring in the 50s, 40s. We don’t like it

when people score at all, not even on a free throw.

”So we get mad at each other, and that’s how we play great

defense.”

South Florida (21-13) will play No. 5 seed Temple in Nashville

on Friday, a matchup of teams known for gritty defense. Few have

been better than this one for the first 20 minutes on the NCAA

stage.

It wasn’t all defense that got it done for South Florida.

Freshman point guard Anthony Collins, a thin-built player with a

youthful face that reminds coach Stan Heath of a 12-year-old kid,

played like a star in his first NCAA tournament game, scoring 12

points.

The Golden Bears won’t soon forget the way they got worked over.

They must have felt as if there were six Bulls on the floor at

times playing defense.

No, only five. The refs counted.

The Bulls set a Big East record by giving up only 56.9 points

per game this season. Their problem: They score about as many

points as they give up. South Florida didn’t have a player average

in double figures for the season.

Realizing he didn’t have many scoring options, Heath instituted

the defense-first, defense-last philosophy that got them to their

first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years and, now, their first

win. The Bulls came in 0-2 in the tournament.

Other teams exult when one of their players hits a big basket.

The Bulls cheer from the bench as the other team passes the ball

around helplessly and hopelessly.

They were cheering their defense from the opening tip.

The first time down the court, Gutierrez forced a running shot

that was too hard, a taste of the misery ahead. California missed

its first five shots and eight of its first nine, helping South

Florida pull ahead 15-3.

Collins made a driving layup, a floater, a 15-foot pull-up

jumper and a layup off his steal during the opening run, getting

South Florida’s unpredictable offense moving.

The Golden Bears readily acknowledged that they hadn’t played

anything quite like the Bulls’ defense. With four players averaging

in double figures, their best chance was to spread the ball around

and be patient.

They ran out of patience real fast, prompting Montgomery to call

a timeout to get his team settled down. Instead, things quickly got

worse.

A lot worse.

Gutierrez hit a fade-away 15-foot jumper with 8:56 left in the

first half. The Golden Bears wouldn’t score again before halftime,

with South Florida pulling off a 14-0 run. It ended with a telling

moment: California guard Justin Cobbs dribbling toward the basket

and failing to even attempt a shot before the buzzer sounded.

Totally discombobulated.

The Golden Bears shuffled toward the locker room with blanks

expressions. Their 13 points matched the seventh-fewest in an

opening half since the NCAA tournament expanded in 1985, according

to STATS LLC.

The Bulls pulled ahead 57-25 with 8:49 left, making sure there

wouldn’t be another big comeback on the same floor where two of

them opened the First Four on Tuesday night.

The only question was how low they could keep the sore.

California got its 40th point with 2:54 to go, and fouled

repeatedly in the final minute, giving itself enough chances to hit

the 50-point mark.

”Obviously the end score was a little misleading,” Montgomery

said. ”But at some point, we just implored our people to keep

competing, trying to get back and get respectable, because it

looked like it could get out of hand.”