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USF Bulls

USF Bulls continue to struggle, suffer eighth straight loss

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:17 PM
TAMPA -

The obvious explanation for Sunday afternoon's blink-and-you-missed-it turnaround — from two-possession game to blowout — was delivered by University of South Florida senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.

"The ball stopped going in, kind of,'' Fitzpatrick said. "It's hard to create momentum when the ball's not going in.''

USF has dealt with epic shooting woes all season. But a conga line of second-half icicles — in large part due to tenacious defense from No. 12-ranked Louisville — reduced things to a scary bad level when the Cardinals ran away with a 59-41 victory before 7,368 fans at the Sun Dome.

The Bulls (10-15, 1-12 Big East Conference) have dropped eight straight, the program's longest losing streak since a 10-game skid in Stan Heath's first season (2007-08). Louisville improved to 21-5, 9-4.

"I think this year we've just got much more talent than them,'' said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, a Basketball Hall of Fame finalist, who earned his 650th career win. "Last year, they had a lot of players who could do multiple things.''

This year, they are mostly doing the same thing — missing shots. USF shot 24.5 percent from the field — and that was not its worst mark this season (23.4 percent at Villanova).

The second-half numbers alone were eye-popping. The Bulls converted just four field goals — a follow dunk by Victor Rudd, a jumper by Jawanza Poland and a pair of layups — for a 14.8 percent mark (4-for-27). From 3-point range, it was 0-for-11.

Just when USF's fans had reason for excitement — when Rudd registered his stunning, soaring one-handed jam off Poland's deep miss, then Anthony Collins hit a pair of free throws, cutting Louisville's lead to 36-30 with 12:57 to play — very little went right for the Bulls. During the next six minutes, Louisville went on a 19-3 run, pushing its lead to 22.

Heath said USF's offense was not acceptable.

But Louisville's defense couldn't be overlooked.

"They hit you in so many ways," said Heath, whose team shot 26.7 percent (12-for-45) in a 64-38 loss at Louisville on Jan. 12. "The way they can recover on a play. They just appear. We got a stone layup and those guys chase you down. They come out of nowhere, change it, block it. It's like, 'Wow!'

"Then to see (Louisville's backcourt), they create a lot of disruption. We thought we had an easy play, a layup, but they make us play a little bit quicker, more in a hurry. That's the thing they do best. I really feel like when they're playing at their best, they're definitely a Final Four-caliber team that can win it all.''

Louisville was good.

It was also lucky.

During the Cardinals' decisive run, the ball was headed out of bounds. Louisville's Chane Behanan chased it down, then whipped a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Russ Smith, who caught it in stride for a layup.

"Shades of Ernie D in St. Louis (flashy Providence College point guard Ernie DiGregorio at the 1973 Final Four),'' Pitino said, cackling. "It's rare not only for a great hustle play, but the guy (Smith) never moved as he was cutting toward the basket, which is incredible. To not break your stride and it goes right into your hands? Pretty special play."

NO. 12 LOUISVILLE 59, SOUTH FLORIDA 41

Wednesday: USF at St. John's, 7 p.m. TV: BHSN, Channel 47 (tape-delayed at 10 p.m.)


jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO
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