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Bulls can’t fly with Cardinals

Louisville 65, USF 57

What were the Bulls thinking, hanging with a team like No. 9 Louisville?

Turns out they were thinking upset.

Following an ugly loss at home Wednesday versus St. Louis, USF (10-12, 3-8 C-USA) traded blows with the Cardinals (21-4, 9-2 C-USA) before ultimately falling 65-57.

In the first half, the Bulls led by as many as 10 points, senior Terrence Leather was cruising and the Freedom Hall crowd of 19,829 was about as quiet as 19,829 people can possibly be.

“I was extremely pleased with the way that we started the game,” coach Robert McCullum said. “Our effort and focus was outstanding on both ends.”

Down by three at the half, USF’s upset bid slowly dissolved in the second as Louisville found its three-point range as the Bulls struggled to find theirs.

The Cardinals were only 1 of 7 in the first half before making 4 of 8 in the second half.

USF finished the game 3 of 13 from beyond the arc. Two successful three-point attempts came in the closing seconds with the game practically out of reach.

“We had some open looks in the second half,” McCullum said. “But you need to shoot better than 23 percent from behind the three-point line against these guys to have a chance to win.”

USF controlled as best it could against a Louisville offense that came in ranked No. 1 in four C-USA offensive categories — scoring per game, scoring margin per game, field goal percentage and three-point percentage — and held the Cardinals to 37 percent shooting for the game.

“South Florida played terrific defense all night long,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.

Louisville was led by forward Ellis Myles, who had 15 points and a team-high four assists. All-American candidate Francisco Garcia finished with 12 points after being held to one point in the first half.

With 13:47 to go in the opening half, USF took a 14-4 lead — its biggest of the game — with a Leather jump shot. Leather had 12 points in the first half, finishing with a game-high 18, but was riddled with foul trouble in the second half.

Midway through the second half, Louisville held a 13-point lead and things looked as though the Cardinals had finally awakened.

But then USF guard Maryln Bryant arrived. Showing unrelenting energy, the senior scored five points in a minute and a half, sparking a Bulls squad that was stalling.

Then, when Marius Prekevicius hit a three-pointer with 7:31 remaining, the Bulls found themselves down by only five.

The upset dream died as USF would go on to miss seven of their next 10 shots and Louisville pulled away for good.

“With a team as talented and deep as they are,” McCullum said, “you have to take advantage of opportunities while you have them.”