Coach Stan Heath and the Bulls basketball team are the toast of the Tampa Bay area. The Bulls went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years and won two games before falling to Ohio, 62-56, on March 18.
Though they fell one shy of the Sweet 16, Heath and company accomplished what no other Bulls team did in its 41-year history—winning not one, but two NCAA tournament games, defeating the likes of Cal, 65-54, and netting an impressive comeback against No. 5 seeded Temple, 58-44.
They gained national prominence in the sports world in a way bay area fans are quite familiar with—opportunistic defense and a scrappy offense. That’s how the Bucs won their Super Bowl. That’s how the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. That’s how the Rays went to the World Series.
The Bulls finished with a 22-14 overall record including 12-6 in the Big East, which warranted a selection as a 12th seed by the NCAA selection committee and Big East Coach of the Year Honors to fifth-year coach Heath.
How impressive was the defense? The Bulls gave up 70 or more points only three times this season. While two of those were on the losing end of blowouts against No. 2-ranked Kansas and No. 14-ranked Georgetown, they proved their meddle scoring 81 against Providence despite giving up 78 points. As much as they struggled offensively, they did top 80 points two other times this season against Marist and FAMU.
The key to the Bulls success was the efforts of forwards Augustus Gilchrist, Ron Anderson, Jr., Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and guard Anthony Collins. While no one on the team topped 10 points a game, the difference was in the persistence that made USF such a dominant defensive force. Gilcrest and Fitzpatrick combined for 74 blocks. Collins led the team in steals with 51, with four other players topping 20. Collins also found the important key openings for scoring opportunities, leading the Bulls with 161 assists. The most telling stat was rebounds as Fitzpatrick led the team with 225 with four others topping 150.
Though sophomore forward Victor Rudd Jr. has declared for the NBA draft, he has yet to sign an agent, so there is a possibility for him to come back to the team. Gilchrist might be departing as a senior, but the Bulls’ depth plus their recent appearance in the NCAA tournament and the renovated Sun Dome should entice an improving stock of fresh recruits to Heath’s program.
The bay area and USF really needed this.
This sports season is a humbling of sorts. The Buccaneers finished 4-12. The Lighting are all but out of the playoffs. The USF football team played their way out of a bowl game. The looming budget cuts have all USF campuses on the edge of their seats worrying what has to be sacrificed.
Stan Heath has brought pride back to this area and back to USF.
As originally posted here