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Martin Fennelly Columns

Robertson relentless in Bulls' win

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:57 PM
TAMPA -

He scored a season-high 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting, but that wasn't the sweet thing about Wednesday night for University of South Florida senior guard Hugh Robertson. It wasn't even the second-sweetest thing.

First, of course, was the Bulls' 63-51 victory against Pittsburgh at the Forum, a righteous bounce-back from that spanking USF took at Georgetown last Saturday.

Second — maybe even a close second — was the look Robertson the defender saw in Pitt senior shooting star Ashton Gibbs all night.

"He kept looking at his teammates, or he just had his head down all night," Robertson said. "That's what it's about, most definitely. That says he's beat, I conquered him. That's the main goal."

USF has the second-best scoring defense in the Big East, and it was on full display. The 6-foot-6 Robertson's seven-mile wingspan shut down Gibbs, who came in averaging 16.8 points per game, and who was voted Big East player of the year in a preseason poll of conference coaches.

Robertson heard about that poll, and he responded in full. He's one of the Big East's top defenders, and it showed Wednesday.

Gibbs didn't score until the second half and finished with a season-low four points on 2-of-9 shooting. It was Gibbs' lowest scoring total since he was a sophomore.

"That's my job, play defense, try to take their best player out of the game," Robertson said. "That's what I tried to do tonight. ...

"It was team effort, team defense."

It was just the kind of win the Bulls needed after Georgetown, the kind that keeps hope alive for a nice season. USF went to 14-10 overall and, more to the point, 7-4 in the Big East, this after just three conference wins last season. Most of the strides have been built on defense.

Pitt was a preseason top-10 team but fell off the wagon, losing eight straight at one point. Still, the Panthers had won four in a row coming into Wednesday's game. They seemed to be getting hot at the right time.

Then USF put them in a deep freeze.

The Bulls outrebounded Pittsburgh, forced turnovers, got all kinds of hands in the way, clogged the lanes. Pitt shot just 35 percent from the field. The Bulls hounded the Panthers, and Robertson was the biggest hound of all. With those long arms particularly telling in the face of Gibbs, who'd hit 61 3-pointers this season, the Pitt standout got off only one attempt Wednesday — a miss at that.

"I think that played a major part in me stopping him," Robertson said. "… I think my length is what did the job."

It clearly frustrated Gibbs.

"I think they frustrated all of us," Pitt point guard Tray Woodall said.

Throw in the scoring, too.

"Hugh Robertson — wow," USF coach Stan Heath said. "A fantastic job on a great player in Gibbs. At the same time, he stayed in attack mode, he was very aggressive, he took the ball to the basket and finished."

Heath is always trying to get Robertson to be less passive on the offensive end. He was Wednesday, and how, and wow: No Bull had ever taken as many shots in a Big East game without missing one.

"Mostly, it's trying to be more assertive, looking to score," Robertson said. "When I look to score, good things happen."

The key now is to take it on the road this Saturday at beatable Providence, then back home next Wednesday against beatable Villanova, and so on and so on. The finish to this USF season, however, is a bear, including road trips to No. 2 Syracuse and Louisville. A 10-8 Big East mark might be possible, but so might 9-9, so might 8-10 …

Let's tuck those NCAA tournament dreams away, but this team can be fun to watch, especially if you love watching defense. Hugh Robertson loves playing it.

"We've got a lot of pride," he said. "That's the bulk of our team — our defense."

It never rested Wednesday.

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