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USF's hope takes a hit
Optimism from return home disappears under Louisville barrage.
By GREG AUMAN
Published January 11, 2007
[Times photo: Justin Cook]
USF's McHugh Mattis scores over David Padgett. Louisville lacked depth inside but more than made up for it by shooting 13-for-30 on 3-pointers.
TAMPA - As rough as USF's 1-15 debut in the Big East was last season, it had the consolation that only three of those losses were by more than 15 points, and none by more than 21.
So much for earning respect in defeat: In just three league games this season, the Bulls have trumped last year's dubious marks and then some.
After losing by 18 and 21 on the road against ranked Connecticut and Pittsburgh teams, USF came home with guarded optimism to face Louisville on Wednesday night. The Bulls struggled mightily in an 81-55 drubbing that matched the most lopsided since coach Robert McCullum's first season in 2004.
"We just happened to have a great night and they had an off night," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who used an impromptu four-guard lineup to overcome a lack of depth in the post. "I'm really proud of our guys. It's a great confidence booster for them, the way they shot it, moved it, passed it, played defense."
After allowing its last two opponents to go 17-for-30 on 3-pointers, McCullum stressed to his players how paramount improved perimeter defense would be. The result? Louisville 11-5, 1-1 went 13-for-30 beyond the arc, matching a season high and getting nearly half its points on 3-pointers.
"I don't know how we could have put more emphasis on defending the 3 in the last two days of practice," McCullum said. "From that standpoint, it's extremely disappointing."
USF (9-8, 0-3) came out of halftime strong, scoring five straight to cut Louisville's lead to 30-26 and force a timeout. But Louisville's Brandon Jenkins hit back-to-back 3s then a layup for a personal 8-0 run in 65 seconds. A minute later, another 12-2 run, fueled by 3s from three different Cardinals, put the game out of reach.
Two of Louisville's best frontcourt players, Juan Palacios and Derrick Caracter, did not play, and still the Cardinals outrebounded USF 32-25. Center Kentrell Gransberry led the Bulls with 19 points and eight rebounds, with forward Melvin Buckley (15 points on five 3s) the only other Bull in double digits.
The crowd of 4,410 was a season high in the Sun Dome, but the attendance for one of USF's biggest opponents would have ranked fifth among last year's Big East home crowds. Sophomore Terrence Williams, who learned the power forward position in Wednesday's shootaround, had team highs of 17 points and nine rebounds, one of six Cards in double figures.
The lone bright spot for USF was the long-awaited debut of freshman Chris Howard, who has missed a season and a half recovering from two torn knee ligaments. He played 20 minutes, had a game-high five assists but committed five turnovers.
The Bulls hope to end their three-game losing streak at home Sunday against Cincinnati, which is 9-6 and has lost three straight. McCullum called it a must-win for his team. Lose, and the Bulls will face more comparisons to last season's 1-15 league record.
"We're going to get better as a team," Howard said. "But it's going to take time. We're going to have to keep pushing and fighting, exactly like we did last year."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3346. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf/.