The USF men’s basketball team knew what it was getting into when No. 10 Louisville entered the Sun Dome for its Conference USA opener Saturday afternoon. However, there was no way the Bulls (6-6, 0-1 C-USA) would have ever thought the outcome would have been an 85-40 defeat in front of a season-high 7,011 fans.
The end result was the 11th straight victory for the Cardinals (11-1, 2-0 C-USA) and the second-worst loss for USF in school history, including the Bulls’ worst loss ever at home. In the end, it was simply a disappointment.
“It’s difficult coming out here preparing for a team like Louisville for a whole week just to be disappointed,” USF forward Jimmy Baxter said. “That’s probably one of the hardest most difficult feelings in the world.”
The only loss worse than Saturday’s occurred in 1987 when the Bulls lost to Syracuse by 46 points.
The Bulls’ woes on Saturday were at both ends of the court. On defense, USF allowed the Cardinals to shoot 45.5 percent. On the other side of the court the Bulls struggled with Louisville’s pressure defense.
Throughout the season USF has been known to turn the ball over, averaging 16.5 turnovers per game before Saturday. However, against the Cardinals, the Bulls turned the ball over 15 times in the first half alone, finishing the game with 22.
“We turned the ball over unforcefully without them pressing us,” Baxter said. “Half the time we were on the court, (we turned the ball over).
“Sometimes I felt like turning the ball over when I was on the bench. That was how much we were turning the ball over.”
Part of the Bulls’ turnover problems might have come from the constant thought of a Cardinal defender in their way.
“Well, we’re trapping, and we’re rotating, so the next pass they’re unsure of,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “And that’s what makes you travel.”
The Bulls, who had seven travel calls in the first half, also turned the ball over without the help of Louisville.
“I’ve watched Rick’s teams play for a long time, and they didn’t really have to (pressure us),” USF coach Robert McCullum said. “Of our first 10 turnovers, seven or eight of them were all travel calls. The ball had already crossed half court.”
Dressing only nine players, while the Cardinals had 14 players in uniform, also hurt USF.
The Bulls lost Marlyn Bryant on Thursday when he tore the ACL in his left knee, the second time Bryant’s season has been cut short by a torn ACL. The Bulls were also without sophomore James Holmes, who was out with an ankle injury.
While Louisville had nine players see double-digit minutes and none played more than 23, the Bulls only had eight see action more than 10 minutes and four played more than 25 minutes.
“Obviously South Florida was shorthanded and banged up a little bit,” Pitino said. “And the worst type of team to play when you’re short-handed is the type of team that plays 11 people, and is deep and presses. So we weren’t the ideal opponent for a team that has injuries.”
Louisville had won 10 straight games before facing the Bulls, including winning its previous three games by an average margin of 31 points.
“Not only are they an outstanding team, they are a team that is playing extremely well,” McCullum said. “Oftentimes you run into a team that is talented and deep, and has all the ingredients that Louisville has. However, they might not be playing well at the time, but we knew Louisville was clicking on all cylinders based on past performances.”
USF now has almost one week to fix what was wrong before traveling to Saint Louis on Saturday.
“If we hang our hats on one game, we might as well go back and play high school basketball,” Baxter said. “Everybody loses. If anybody thinks that our season is over because of one game, they can think twice.”