Top o' the mornin' to ya, Bulls fans! It's March 17 and ya best be wearin' your green today, laddies, because USF is alive and well in the NCAA Tournament.
It's shocking to think that USF won this game by 14 points when you look at the first-half stats. The Bulls went scoreless for almost 11 minutes (about as long as the Georgetown scoreless drought back on February 4). They made three field goals in the entire first half. They missed 22 freaking shots in a row. But just when they were down 19-9 and it looked like everything was on the brink, the Bulls made the best of it. They got a bunch of fouls on Temple and chipped away a little at the free throw line, and they did what they always do -- they locked it up on the defensive end and somehow got the game back.
And then...I don't even know how to explain the first eight minutes of the second half. That replaced Wednesday night's game as the least USF thing I've ever seen, and the way they did it was completely out of character. They still played their usual defense, but they went quickly on offense and got a lot of good shots. Of the 24 points the Bulls scored in that stretch, 19 of them came with at least 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Everyone was feeling it. Anthony Collins was driving and scoring, driving and kicking, getting the ball to Hugh Robertson for a nasty up-and-under dunk... Shaun Noriega(!) made a three... suddenly USF was up 7.
Then came the best minute of Toarlyn Fitzpatrick's career in green and gold. First he made a baseline jumper off a drive by Collins. Next time down, he worked around a Ron Anderson Jr. screen and nailed a 3. Then he came down and got a violent rejection off Micheal Eric. Collins took it up court, Fitzpatrick waited behind the arc in the same spot he had just hit from, Collins gave him a no-look pass, wide-open 3, bang.
The reaction after that second three went in... I mean, that's what we've all been waiting for so long to feel. It's the NCAA Tournament (the real Tournament), USF is absolutely running things, our fans are beside themselves with excitement, the rest of the crowd is into it, EVERYONE on the bench is jumping up and down, coaches are doing the get-back move with other coaches... it was everything I thought it would be, and like a hundred times better. I've seen the Bucs win the Super Bowl, the Lightning win the Stanley Cup, and the Rays win the pennant... that was right up there with all those feelings.
This wasn't something everyone could share the same way. It's nice to have people on the bandwagon as the Bulls make this run, but you really need to have been through all the hell this program has been through the last 20 years, through the near-misses and the bad breaks and painful losses and flat-out awfulness, to know just how fantastic that all was to watch. It was like we alums and diehard fans were a rescue dog, and we got a friendly new owner who came up and petted us behind the ears and gave us a big hug and a doggie treat.
Temple finally got their bearings back and cut the lead all the way down from 14 to 3, but then another un-USF thing happened. They got lucky. Victor Rudd banked in a three, his second in two games. And then Wyatt lost his mind and got T'ed up complaining about a non-call right before the under-4 timeout. That basically ended the Owls' chances of winning the game. Rudd made another three, almost threw down one of the sickest dunks of all time, and everyone made their free throws.
It's already pretty great, but there might be more. Because Ohio upset Michigan, the Bulls are the home team on Sunday. They'll be in their home white uniforms on Sunday, sitting one win from the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. I didn't even bother looking up where the regionals were being held before the tournament started. But the Bulls could be in St. Louis next weekend. At this point they might even be favored to get there.
It's still basketball season, you guys. Incredible.