USF outlasts No. 18 Louisville on road

In a season filled with victories over teams they were expected to beat, the USF men’s basketball team finally picked up one of its trademark upset victories, defeating No. 18 Louisville, 58-51 on the road.

But this time, the result could mean a whole lot more.

Success in the Big East has eluded USF since it joined the elite conference in 2005. One thing the Bulls have done, however, is prove that they have the ability to pick up a surprising victory every season. Though the 2012 season as a whole has been a success, the marquee upset victory was missing — until Wednesday night.

Traveling to Kentucky to match up against the favored Cardinals, the Bulls arrived looking to solidify their spot on the NCAA Tournament bubble and qualify for the first time in 20 years. Before the game, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi listed USF as one of the final four teams included in his projected tournament field, but a loss would have likely sent them right back to the other side of the bubble.

The Bulls came in looking to slow down the speedy Cardinals and make them play at the sluggish, defensive pace they’ve preferred all year. It’s safe to say the top-ranked scoring defense in the Big East got the job done in a hostile environment.

Jawanza Poland led the Bulls with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including a game-changing 3-pointer with 3:05 remaining, altering the momentum of a back-and-forth second half. Though the shot only brought the Bulls’ lead to six, it gave USF’s gritty defense all the separation it needed to close out the game.

Defense remained key for the Bulls, preventing Louisville from establishing any sort of dominance and holding the Cardinals to just 34 percent shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers.

Though they’ve improved their chances drastically, the Bulls are not yet considered to be a “lock” for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. USF closes its regular season at home against West Virginia on Saturday at noon, with a chance to pick up another quality win.

After wrapping up the regular season, the Bulls will head to New York City’s Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament, when they could still earn a double bye into the quarterfinals, depending on their seeding.

The Bulls are in a three-way tie for the No. 3 seed in the Big East, but a win over the Mountaineers and a loss by either Georgetown (at No. 7 Marquette) or Notre Dame (vs. Providence) will earn the Bulls the double bye.