Losing streak hits five

West Virginia 69, USF 52

Coaches always stress the basics – the fundamentals of their game. On Sunday, the Bulls decided to ignore them.

USF went 4-of-15 from the free-throw line and turned the ball over 14 times during its 69-52 loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers.

“Offensively, when you shoot 26 percent from the free-throw line, and 20 percent from three, that’s a recipe that’s going to hurt you in the long run,” coach Stan Heath said.

12,062 people piled into the St. Pete Times Forum – a season-high for the Bulls for any game, home or away, this season. But USF (10-9, 1-5) couldn’t handle a late West Virginia (14-4, 4-2) scoring run.

The Bulls – who have dropped five straight games since winning their conference opener against Rutgers – have fallen to 15th place out of the 16 teams in the Big East Conference. Only Rutgers (8-11, 0-6) is keeping USF from being the conference’s bottom-dweller.

USF started the game rather quickly. Freshman guard Dominique Jones led the Bulls in the first-half with 11 points – including a three-pointer with 13:10 remaining that gave USF its first lead of the game.

Senior center Kentrell Gransberry scored six first-half points, but got into foul trouble that forced him to sit out the final five minutes of the stanza.

With Gransberry on the bench, WVU made a run. USF led by as many as seven points, but WVU senior guard Darris Nichols’ three-pointer with 11.6 seconds remaining gave the Mountaineers a 26-25 halftime lead.

“For about 30 minutes, I thought we played really well,” Heath said. “I thought we were aggressive and hitting our spots.”

After halftime, a rejuvenated Gransberry took the game into his own hands. He scored the Bulls’ first 13 points of the second half, putting his team up 38-33 midway through the period.

“In the second half, I thought we came out strong,” Heath said. “I thought (Gransberry) was a strong force for us.”

Then the Bulls began to make mental mistakes. Gransberry – who finished with a game-high 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting – was atrocious at the free-throw line. He hit just 2-of-11 free throws in the game and was just 2-of-8 in the second half.

“I think that, right now, the free throw thing is kind of in (Gransberry’s) ear,” Heath said. “It’s in his head. We just have to help him out. He can make them in practice, and make them in games, but he just couldn’t do that tonight.”

Gransberry was disappointed in the way he performed as well.

“I’m very disappointed in my performance tonight,” Gransberry said. “I take full accountability for that.”

The Bulls also had a poor performance from their bench players. Reserves took only four shots for the Bulls and scored just two points. Heath realizes that this is a growing concern.

“Our bench is a problem,” Heath said. “We’re trying to find that fifth starter, but right now that’s a problem.”

Everything that USF did wrong, West Virginia seemed to do right. The Mountaineers went on a 19-4 run that lasted nearly nine minutes. West Virginia – under constant fouling from a Bulls team desperate to make the game closer – shot 22-of-26 as a team from the free-throw line. WVU turned the ball over just six times in the game.

West Virginia also keyed in on Jones. After scoring 11 points in the first half, Jones took only one shot attempt in the second half – a desperation three-pointer as the shot clock expired.

“I think Jones is getting a lot more attention then he did earlier this season,” Heath said. “Guys are denying him and face-guarding him. He needs to learn to play through that and move better without the ball.”

With a long climb in order to get back into contention for a spot in the Big East Tournament, sophomore guard Chris Howard feels the team has to work on the basics.

“I think we need to get more mentally tough as a team,” Howard said. “We need to take care of the little things … just work on the stuff that we’ve had mental breakdowns on.”