Marquette outrebounds USF by 22, the difference in its 70-63 victory.
By PETE YOUNG
Published February 27, 2004
TAMPA - Rebounding should be a 50-50 proposition. Two teams, one ball caroming off the rim, someone gets it.
If South Florida had come anywhere near claiming its fair share of rebounds Thursday night at the Sun Dome, the Bulls, in their only nationally televised game of the season, could have knocked off 2003 Final Four participant Marquette.
Instead, USF fell 70-63 on ESPN2, losing its 12th Conference USA game in 13 tries. Afterward the Bulls had to swallow these stats: a 31-8 rebounding deficit in the first half and a minus-22 margin for the game.
"Ugly. That's all I can say," USF point guard Brian Swift said. "Throughout the year it's always something. This game it was the rebounds."
An unclaimed defensive rebound finished off the Bulls. Marquette's Travis Diener grabbed his missed 3-point attempt with 40 seconds left after USF had cut the lead to 66-60. Diener was fouled and made both free throws.
"We said, "We don't need to foul.' And we defended well, and that's what happened," USF coach Robert McCullum said. "I have to give Marquette credit. We just got manhandled inside."
Despite getting creamed on the boards - Scott Merritt had three more rebounds than the USF team in the first half - the Bulls were in it down the stretch. They held Marquette to 7-for-23 shooting after halftime.
USF (7-17) trimmed an 18-point deficit to 55-49 with 7:49 to go. The announced crowd of 4,712, second-largest of the season, busted out the "Let's Go Bulls" chant.
"(The cheering) motivated us," Swift said.
Marquette (15-8, 6-7) used a zone defense to help get its lead back to double figures, but USF cut it to 66-60 on a 3-pointer by Swift (11 points, eight assists) with 1:15 left.
On the next possession USF opted not to foul, in part because the Golden Eagles are C-USA's best free-throw shooting team. The strategy seemed to work when Diener (20 points, 5-of-17 shooting) missed the 3-pointer. But USF didn't box out, again.
"I usually get back on defense after I shoot," said Diener, whose technical foul with 7:59 to go helped USF stay close. "I had an instinct to go get it, and I got it."
The Bulls expected more of themselves.
"Nationally televised game, I thought we'd come out (better)," Swift said. "We weren't hustling like we usually do. Merritt, he was more hungry than (us)."
Merritt, a 6-foot-10 senior who averages 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
"I guess they just wanted it more than us," USF guard Bradley Mosley said.
Terrence Leather paced USF with 21 points and six rebounds, and Mosley had 18 points. There were 45 fouls, which put depth-shy USF at a disadvantage. Leather and Brian Graham fouled out.
USF's Gerrick Morris had six blocks despite foul trouble. He has 51 in his past eight games and needs five to surpass Curtis Kitchen (257) for the school record.
USF's chances of making the C-USA tournament are remote. If the Bulls win their final three, beginning Saturday at East Carolina, they still might not make it. The bottom two teams don't qualify.
"We've got to get these three wins," Swift said. "The most important game is Saturday."