LOUISVILLE — Jawanza Poland scored 16 points and South Florida ruined No. 19 Louisville's Senior Night with a 58-51 victory Wednesday night that gives the Bulls the signature win they have desperately sought for their NCAA Tournament résumé.
South Florida (19-11, 12-5 Big East) has won six of seven since a 30-point loss at Georgetown and was considered on the bubble with a game remaining at home against West Virginia on Saturday.
The Cardinals (22-8, 10-7) had won their 10 previous home finales. Their two starting seniors made the biggest contributions with Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith scoring 14 points each.
But the Bulls went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line in the final minute to seal the victory.
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Ron Anderson Jr. grabbed eight rebounds and Hugh Robertson added seven for a team that's grown by leaps and bounds since being blown out by 28 points at Kansas in December and 20 at Marquette in January.
In the most recent surge, none of the games has been pretty. Still, the Bulls keep winning while never scoring more than 65 points in their current streak, including a 46-45 win over Cincinnati coming into this one.
With the game tied at 41, both sides scrapped through an ugly sequence.
Louisville's Russ Smith missed a three-pointer long on a 4-on-3 break, the Bulls snagged the rebound and had a 3-on-2 advantage, but Robertson missed a follow-up dunk.
Augustus Gilchrist scored, Robertson made an acrobatic play off a miss by Gilchrist by bouncing it off the backboard and putting it back in to give the Bulls a 45-42 lead with 3:59 left. Poland hit a three that pushed the lead to six.
Chris Smith answered with a three-point play that cut it to 48-45 and South Florida burned its final two timeouts with 1:22 left, including a disputed call when it appeared Fitzpatrick didn't maintain possession despite the bench being awarded a timeout.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Poland hit a jumper that made it 50-45 with 1:20 left.
A three-pointer by Kuric cut it to 51-48 with 39 seconds to go, but Fitzpatrick hit two free throws, freshman Anthony Collins added two more and Victor Rudd Jr. added the first of two to seal it.
The Cardinals looked disjointed throughout, never more apparent than the final possession of the first half when Peyton Siva waited much too long to initiate the offense, lost the ball briefly and was forced to take an awkward attempt at the baseline that barely grazed the rim as time expired with Louisville down 22-17.
It wouldn't get much better in the second half for the Cardinals, who have dropped three of their last five.