South Florida is playing in its first NCAA Tournament game in 20 years, and for only the third time in program history. The Bulls logged a 20-win season for the second time in three years, and the squad went 12-6 in the daunting Big East Conference. USF won its opening game in the Big East Tournament (56-47 over Villanova), but then fell to Notre Dame in a tough 57-53 final last Thursday evening.
As for California, it received its 17th invitation to the NCAA Tournament, and is 19-16 all-time in the event, which includes a National Championship earned way back in 1959. The Golden Bears picked up 24 wins for the second time in two seasons, and finished second in Pac-12 Conference play with a 13-5 league ledger. Cal defeated Stanford, 77-71, in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Colorado, 70-59, in a semifinal-round matchup last Friday.
The winner of tonight's affair will advance to Nashville on Friday as a No. 12 seed for a meeting with fifth-seeded Temple.
These two programs have met only twice on the hardwood prior to tonight's contest, with each taking a victory on their respective home floors.
The Bulls led 45-42 with just over a minute to go in regulation against Notre Dame, but were unable to hold on down the stretch and the Irish forced the extra session. The back-and-forth continued in overtime, but UND held on for the narrow win despite shooting just 38.1 percent from the field. Victor Rudd, Jr. scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds to pace USF, while Anthony Collins added 13 points and passed out seven assists in a losing effort. The Bulls play a grinding-style of defense that allows opponents to net just 56.9 ppg on 38.8 percent field goal efficiency. At the other end of the court, the Bulls average only 59.2 ppg themselves, but have proven that they can turn it up when necessary, scoring 70 or more points on six separate occasions this year. Still, the club doesn't have a single player with a double-digit scoring average, although Augustus Gilchrist does rest on the cusp with a team-leading 9.6 ppg.
Cal shot just 42.9 percent from the field and hit only 5-of-16 from beyond the arc against Colorado, scoring just 59 points in the recent loss. It was only the third time all season that the Golden Bears were held to under 60 points, as the squad averages 71.7 ppg this season on an outstanding 47.9 percent shooting clip. Allen Crabbe scored 18 points to pace Cal in the losing effort, while Justin Cobbs added 15 points to go with six rebounds. Jorge Gutierrez got into the mix as well, finishing with 10 points. Crabbe leads the way for the Golden Bears this season with 15.3 ppg, while Gutierrez contributes 13.1 ppg. Gutierrez was the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, and he also grabs 5.3 rpg to go with 131 assists through 32 contests. Cobbs also averages in double figures for Cal (12.9 ppg), while Harper Kamp checks in with 11.3 ppg. The Bears have gotten it done from just about anywhere on the floor this season, converting 36.8 percent of their attempts from downtown to go with a 74.6 percent conversion rate at the charity stripe. The club does commit more than its share of giveaways (12.9 per game), but makes up for it by holding the opposition to 41.1 percent shooting and yielding only 61.8 ppg.