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South Florida taps coach Heath's NCAA tournament experience

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- South Florida redshirt senior Ron Anderson Jr. is a bit of an aficionado of teams making unexpected runs deep into the NCAA tournament, and his personal favorite is VCU's streak to the Final Four last season.

Just don't ask the forward to compare his 12th-seeded Bulls to anyone else.

"It's kind of been our story the whole season that we're going to have to keep on battling through adversity and create our own name," Anderson said Saturday. "If we play great ball and make it to the Final Four, you want to make the comparisons, so be it. I think right now we're just enjoying this time and we really want ... USF to have its own name, really. Cinderella or no Cinderella if people want to call it that, we'll continue playing the same ball."

The Bulls started this season 7-7, and now one of the four teams to start the NCAA tournament early in Dayton will play its third game in five days tonight. A win would earn USF a trip to St. Louis on Friday against either top-seeded North Carolina or Creighton in the Midwest Regional semifinal.

Not bad for a program in only its third NCAA tournament and first since 1992.

Sophomore Victor Rudd Jr. said the Bulls' phones have been lighting up after the first two NCAA wins USF has ever notched: first Cincinnati in Dayton, then fifth-seeded Temple 58-44 on Friday night.

Rudd has heard from people on Twitter, Facebook and even going back to elementary school. The Bulls (22-13) do not feel tired, either.

"For me, it just gave us an extra game," Rudd said. "We got to play in the first four. That's all it was."

South Florida cannot pull out the underdog card tonight. No. 13 seed Ohio (28-7) has won five straight, including an upset of fourth-seeded Michigan 65-60 to overshadow the Bulls' own big win over Temple. The Bobcats have limited their focus to the Bulls and insist they are past their first win over Michigan.

"We're just trying to win one game at a time, move on," Ohio junior guard D.J. Cooper said. "To be able to get to the next weekend, it would be great to make a good run. I don't know, maybe two more games."

Ohio has much more NCAA tournament history than USF with this the Bobcats' 13th appearance overall and second under coach John Groce. But the Bobcats haven't won two games in the tournament since 1964, and they lost to Tennessee in 2010 after an upset of No. 3 Georgetown.

Both these teams have coaches with plenty of postseason experience. Groce was an assistant to Thad Matta at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State. USF coach Stan Heath can trump that, winning a national title with Tom Izzo at Michigan State in 2000 before he took Kent State out of the Mid-American Conference to a regional final. Heath also took Arkansas to two NCAA berths.

Groce encouraged his Bobcats to watch Butler and his close friend Brad Stevens become a two-time national runner-up. He wanted them to watch how Butler played together.

"Experience is a great teacher, for sure, and I think that's helpful," Groce said. "My wife said to me last night when I got back to the hotel, `I've never seen you so calm.' I don't know if it's a good thing. Probably is, I guess."

Heath said he feels a comfort zone in how to handle news conferences, open practices and closed practices and letting his player sleep late. That has helped this week.

"I used to get them up early, which was dumb. Let them rest," Heath said.

This game will feature contrasting styles. The Bobcats of Ohio love an up-tempo pace and average 70.7 points per game. They also play a little defense, ranking fourth in the nation in steals (9.4) and held opponents to 62.4 points this season.

Defense is such a part of the Bulls' identity, especially in the Big East, that Heath said players who don't commit lose minutes. The Bulls led the Big East in scoring defense and ranked seventh nationally holding teams to 56.9 points per game. They also held teams to 29.7 percent shooting beyond the arc, and they've outrebounded opponents 17 of the past 20 games.

"We have fun playing defense," Rudd said. "It transfers to offense. When you're scoring shots, it makes you have more fun. You want to get steals and breakouts, dunks and layups."

The Bobcats have played the likes of Louisville and Marshall this season, and they feel ready for USF's grinding style. They do plan to push the pace as much as possible, hoping to wear down the Bulls with a short rotation.

"We need to go out there and be aggressive and play our game," Ohio junior guard Walter Offutt said. "It will be fun, and we'll be fine."

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker