Feb 29, 2012; Louisville, KY, USA; South Florida Bulls guard Jawanza Poland (5) drives against Louisville Cardinals guard Peyton Siva (3) during the second half at the KFC YUM! Center. South Florida defeated Louisville 58-51. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE
This isn't the way it goes for USF, you see.
When you're USF basketball, and the calendar turns to February, everything is supposed to unravel. Either the season was already pretty much over, or you're still clinging to the faintest hint of NCAA Tournament hopes. And then you lose The Big Game At Home, and you get demolished on the road, and then you lose to some dismal bottom-feeder to end all hope. By the time you get to March, there's nothing left but meaningless games and broken dreams. That's the script. That's what's supposed to happen.
USF isn't supposed to go 6-2 in February. They aren't supposed to win on the road after the heart and soul of their team (Ron Anderson Jr.) fouls out against Providence. They aren't supposed to take a 26-0 punch to the face in Syracuse and then bounce right back to fight the #2 team in the country all the way to the final buzzer. They aren't supposed to win The Big Game At Home -- against Cincinnati, of course. And they definitely aren't supposed to go to Louisville, a place they've won exactly one time in 13 tries (the Scott Johnson Game!), facing a coach they've never beaten (Rick Pitino), and pull out a win on Louisville's senior night. Except this year, they did.
My favorite part of last night's game was JAWANZA! making the three-pointer that put the Bulls up 48-42. It was impressive enough that Gus passed out of the post to a wide-open shooter instead of trying to bull his way to the basket for a wild shot or an offensive foul. What happened right after that was even better. Of course everyone on the bench got up and cheered and pumped their fists and high-fived. But go back and find the guy in the white shirt and tie in the first row who stood up and cocked his fist in tandem with Alberto Damour did on the bench, both preparing to celebrate as Poland's three headed towards the basket. If even Doug Woolard is getting caught up in the excitement, then you know something amazing is happening.
We've all seen what it takes to reverse a long string of losing and disappointment. It takes a close-knit team with a strange kind of amnesia. They're mentally stronger than their own fans. There's no "here we go again" when losses happen. There's no "well, we're so-and-so, we're not supposed to win." History doesn't haunt them -- it motivates them. That's exactly the feeling you get from this USF team. You know they know how long it's been since the program reached the NCAA Tournament. They know how close teams have come since then, only to fizzle down the stretch. They've even seen other sports on campus get right to the edge of success, only to slip and fall (hello, football). And you get the feeling that they'll be damned if they're going to let it happen to them.
It's not quite time to get our Gaga on, as Collin calls it. But we're only a win or two away from completely rewriting the script, changing it from the same old story of disappointment to a story about maybe the most unlikely achievement in the history of USF basketball.