With one layup, the Bulls took down their first top-10 opponent in program history — and with one win, USF basketball changed.
Since South Florida joined the Big East, the University has been nothing more than an afterthought in basketball. However, coach Stan Heath is beginning to change that — as showcased by a 57-56 upset over then-No. 8 Marquette Friday night.
Heath not only gained a ‘W’ — he gained respect.
Basketball is a game of statistics. But the Bulls’ victory over the Golden Eagles had an impact bigger than stats — though senior Jesus Verdejo’s 21 points could go down as the most memorable of his career.
The game was also memorable for those in attendance. And it will leave a lot of people asking, “Where were you when it happened?”
This season has not been a favorable one for the Bulls. They’ve lost to teams like Niagara, Oral Roberts and Wright State. Coming into the game against Marquette, the Bulls had five losses by 15 points or more.
While the victory over Marquette doesn’t erase the distance USF has yet to travel, come March, the upset will be on the minds of opponents.
Teams like Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh — all currently in the nation’s top 10 — will no longer consider USF the underdog. Instead, they will see a team that could dash their hopes of a Big East title and perhaps cause them to bow out early.
For the players — especially seniors like Verdejo — this is a victory that will never be forgotten. It will likely be the memory that stands out in his college career. And freshmen like Augustus Gilchrist can use this game as motivation in the future.
The win, however, might mean more to Heath than anyone else.
After the game, Heath admitted it was one of the “most special wins” in his career. His tenure at USF has been lackluster, but achieving history like he did Friday changes that.
Respect is defined as “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person or group.”
The teams that come into the Sun Dome for the rest of the year, and those that play against USF in the future, certainly will have to give to them — and they’ve earned it.
The era of mediocrity in Bulls basketball may have ended. With one more win, USF will have its most Big East wins in a single season.
They’ll get a chance to earn that record tonight against Providence.
Vince Lombardi once said, “If you can’t accept losing, you can’t win.” The Bulls have tasted loss several times this year — 14, to be exact — but perhaps they’re learning to accept it.
And if Lombardi’s opinion is correct, perhaps there are more big wins in store for South Florida.