It's 3:55am, and I've been traveling all day and watching the most exhausting blowout win of my entire life, so I'll keep this short and sweet. But my God, being there was all you can imagine and then some. And if the losses to West Virginia and Notre Dame were the most USF thing ever, this was absolutely the least. It was flawless perfection from the tip to the final horn. All the demons were exorcised. Twenty years of the abyss just got murdered and left for dead in a ditch, and we head to Nashville on what is unquestionably house money. Oh. My. God.
You want to know how counter to the history of USF this was? We're up 25 at the first media timeout in the second half... and everyone sitting around me in the Bulls section is trying to figure out if there's a way we could blow this. That's how our fan base is conditioned to react after so much pain and heartache, and justifiably so. But tonight our team and our preparation was just better. #BeatEmDown never felt so good to type on Twitter.
Just like the Red Sox had to come back from down 3-0, then beat the hell out of the Yankees in Game 7 to finally break that curse, that's what tonight felt like for everyone that made the trip. We took the curse that had hung over this program for two decades, and shot it like Old Yeller. Nashville is strictly house money, because tonight the corner got turned.
Anthony Collins played USF's first NCAA game in 20 years like a 5th year senior. Running the team with the same unflappable composure as he has all year, making more tear drops than a prison tattoo artist, and not letting the moment affect him in the least. This kid appears to be as cool as they come. And with three years left, how much better is he going to get?? It didn't help that they kept picking him defensively as soon as he crossed midcourt with defenders that had no chance in hell in staying in front of him. Some zone or softer man from Montgomery might have kept this closer. But it sure as hell wouldn't have made it a win.
More from Dayton, as well as some video of the Bulls leaving the UD Arena last night, after the jump.
There was that defense. Again. Cal flat got their heart stolen. Don't let the closing points fool you, as they flat quit because they knew they were outclassed. That's what the Bulls do to you; they don't wear you down physically, but they sure as hell do mentally. It's tough knowing you might not put up an uncontested shot all night. It's even tougher knowing that offensive rebounds will be insanely tough to come by, and your first attempt will probably be the only one of the possession. The Bulls stay in front of you, rarely get beaten off the dribble, have incredibly active length all over the floor, and get a hand up and alter just about every shot released by their opponent. And that mental grind is one of their biggest weapons. I'm surprised Hugh Robertson didn't take a Golden Bears' still-beating heart out of his chest and take a bite out of it like in Temple of Doom.
Last thing before bed: what made this game so special was that it became a celebration. I was there tonight with many of the same guys I slept in tents with in Greenbergopolis over 10 years ago. Sitting next to me was one of my best friends who was a manager on those Altron/BB teams that couldn't ever get over the hump. Many of us are older and fatter than we were then, but we still live and die with this team as much as we did when we were pimply faced freshman. We have real jobs and lives now, but that green and gold still beats inside of us as much as it did the day we first stepped in the Sun Dome. There's a core of us for whom basketball still means far more than football, and so many of them were there tonight. Donors that I've known forever. Diehards that make every road trip they can. So many of them made it to Dayton on such short notice... and they wouldn't trade it for any USF event they can remember.
Granted a few of us had quite a few adult beverages before the game (sadly not me, the rental car is in my name dammit), but we were nothing short of fucking giddy for the entire game and hours after. We hugged like drunken fraternity brothers (which some of us were). We couldn't believe it finally happened. Our alma mater is good at basketball. We have a team that we're proud to call our own. For all of us, and I'm in my mid-30's, that's never, ever happened in our adult lives. This was all we dreamed about... not Final Fours or Top 10 rankings or 5 star recruiting classes. We just wanted to win an NCAA Tournament game. You can call it a play-in game if you must, but it sure as hell didn't feel that way in the gym.
And if you don't think the team is as excited as we were, check this video from @LethalWeaponMV of the players leaving UD Arena last night.
Congratulating USF Basketball After First Four Victory over Cal! (via LETHALWEAPONMV)
The rest of this ride is just a free roll, as tonight was the big payoff. But let's see how long we can keep this thing going. I'm booking my Nashville hotel in the morning... for three nights.