Nothing — the free throws, the field goals, the lay-ups or the three pointers — fell for the Bulls against No. 20 Cincinnati on Thursday.
The only thing that did fall was USF, and it fell hard.
In front of a nationally televised ESPN2 audience, the Bulls (8-9, 1-5 C-USA) shot a season-low 25.9 percent from the field and lost to the Bearcats 74-48 in front a Sun Dome crowd of 6,182.
“Obviously from the start, not much went right,” USF coach Robert McCullum said. “They were just far more physical. That set the tone for the way the game was played.”
The Bulls (8-9, 1-5 C-USA) struggled to control the inside presence of Eric Hicks, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward that heckled USF’s post players with a team-high 19 points and 11 rebounds.
The beefy Hicks scored 15 points in the first half as Cincinnati (15-3, 5-1 C-USA) held a commanding 37-15 lead at the break. Against a harassing Bearcat defense, USF was unable to get decent looks at the basket. In the first half, the Bulls converted on 5 of 30 shots.
“They’re known for their toughness, it’s going to be hard to get anything with them offensively,” said guard Brian Swift, who scored a career-high 27 points. “Their defensive intensity is unmatched. That’s probably the toughest defensive team we’ve played all year and it showed.”
USF’s leading scorer this season, Terrence Leather, was a non-factor. Forced to guard Cincinnati’s big men, Leather accumulated four fouls in the first half and fouled out halfway through the second.
Leather was held scoreless for the first time since late in the 2002-03 season.
“We wanted to go in and make him guard someone,” Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said.
After USF’s loss to Houston on Saturday, Leather said that he played awfully versus the Cougars. McCullum thinks the Leather may have been pressing a bit.
“Sometimes you can put so much pressure on yourself until it takes you out of your game,” McCullum said.
“If you can’t play relaxed and loose, then you prevent your instincts from taking over.”
A bright spot for the Bulls was Swift, who, with a career-high 27 points (on 9-of-26 shooting), outscored his teammates by six points.
The Bulls were never really in the game, being down by as much as 23 in the first half while never getting closer than 14 in the second.
“Even though we didn’t play well in the first half, at the same time, Cincinnati wasn’t playing that well in the first half, either,” Swift said. “We felt like we still had a shot.”That shot, like the others, just didn’t fall.