Shaun Noriega had fallen out of the South Florida Bulls' rotation. He had barely played since early in Big East play. His last basket was on January 5 in a lopsided win over Villanova. Even today against the Providence Friars, he was only in the game for one minute. But he made the most of it.
Noriega hit three-pointers on back-to-back trips down the floor to help the Bulls erase a late five-point deficit and rally for a 55-48 win at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence on Saturday afternoon. The win lifts the Bulls to 15-10 on the season and an unprecedented 8-4 in Big East play.
Unlike the teams' earlier meeting, where both teams shot extremely well on the way to an 81-78 USF victory, Saturday's game was a hard-nosed battle, with tough defense and lots of missed shots. The Bulls shot just 39%, while Providence was a dismal 30.2% from the field. Only two players finished in double figures -- Vincent Council led all scorers with 16 points for the Friars, and Victor Rudd Jr. had 11 for the Bulls. The Friars made just one three-pointer. But after Ron Anderson Jr. fouled out for USF, Providence took advantage of his absence around the rim and opened up a 46-41 lead with two and a half minutes to play.
Then came Noriega, out of nowhere, to score all six of his points in a 45-second burst to give USF a 47-46 advantage. LaDontae Henton answered for Providence, but they would not score again. Anthony Collins hit two free throws to give USF the lead back at 49-48, and then Rudd and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick hit six more from the line to finish off the game.
The Bulls will be back in action on Wednesday night against Villanova at the St. Pete Times Forum as they look to assure themselves of a .500 season in Big East play for only the second time. USF beat the Wildcats 74-57 in that January 5 game, which had been the last time Shaun Noriega got on the scoreboard until today.