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USF Bulls

Bulls now can only sit and wait

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 10:19 AM

There were many things to second-guess about the final, frantic seconds of regulation on Thursday night, when the University of South Florida lost control of its Big East Conference tournament quarterfinal against No. 23 Notre Dame. The Bulls eventually lost 57-53 in overtime at Madison Square Garden in New York.

But none were bigger than Jawanza Poland's uncontested missed layup with about 33 seconds to play. It would have given USF a three-point lead.

Afterward, Poland didn't make excuses and said he should have converted the basket.

"I guess you could say it slipped," Poland told reporters. "I had a wide-open layup. I should have made it, but I didn't."

USF (20-13) also missed its opportunity to likely nail down an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament, where the Bulls haven't played since 1992.

The Bulls still have a good chance to make the 68-team field — ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm kept USF safely in their bracket projections before conference tournament play resumed Friday — but there might be some nervous and sleepless times until the NCAA pairings are announced on Sunday at 6 p.m.

If the Bulls don't make the NCAA field and are relegated to the National Invitation Tournament, they might be haunted by three game-altering sequences at the end of regulation against Notre Dame.

"We just didn't finish plays and we turned the ball over a little bit," Rudd said.

"Poland should have finished that layup," USF coach Stan Heath said. "He's point-blank, all by himself. He makes it, game is over, it's done. He's normally a highlight reel, and he normally dunks it and the fans go crazy on plays like that. I don't know if he didn't have his footing or was so focused on catching the ball he didn't have sight of the rim. He has been a guy who has made huge plays for us."

Poland recovered his miss and was fouled with 30.4 seconds remaining. His one-and-one attempt went in and out — back iron, front iron, then glass, boom-boom-boom, in pinball fashion — and USF still led by one, 45-44.

Poland said he had put the missed layup out of his head, but he "just missed the free throw. It's hard. I could've put my team up with (30.4) seconds to go."

With Notre Dame scrambling downcourt on a long outlet pass, Poland fouled Connaughton with 26.1 seconds remaining. Connaughton made the first of two free-throw attempts, tying the game at 45 and giving USF one final chance to win it in regulation.

Heath said Collins probably was bothered by a finger injury, which briefly sidelined him during the second half.

"I think it affected him big-time," Heath said. "It looked bad. The finger was really disjointed. I don't know if they popped it back or what they did, but they taped it up. ... I think he was a little bit worried about how he can handle the ball with his fingers bothering him."

Heath said he remains confident about USF's NCAA chances. The Bulls were 12-6 during the Big East's regular season. There have been 69 teams with at least 12 regular-season conference victories during the Big East's history. All 69 have received NCAA bids (although 38 of them occurred during the era when the Big East played just 16 regular-season games, further enhancing the 12-victory standard).

"I'll be honest, I won't sleep," Heath said. "You want to hear your name called Sunday at 6 o'clock. I think we've done a great job by putting ourselves in a great position. I think our team is worthy.

"But there are some people (on the NCAA Selection Committee) that have a lot of information that make wise decisions. We'll let our case rest with them."


jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib

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