Late fades have been a problem for South Florida all season, and the issue returned Thursday night, though the Bulls folded a few minutes earlier than normal in losing to No. 7 Villanova 83-71 at home.
South Florida was down by just 54-51 when Villanova made three 3-pointers in a row. Corey Stokes made the first two, then Dominic Cheek drained the third. Suddenly, the Bulls trailed 64-51 with eight minutes to go and were on their way to a fifth straight loss in falling to 6-10, 0-3 in the Big East.
It was the first time South Florida lost by double digits this season. The Bulls have led in the second half in nine of their 10 losses, but turnovers and poor shooting continue to plague them in the latter stages of games.
Coach Stan Heath has tried some different tactics during practice in recent weeks in an effort to improve the late-game play. Each day, he runs a drill in which four minutes are put on the clock and South Florida scrimmages as if it were the end of a game. So far, though, practice hasn't made perfect.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: South Florida will try to snap a 10-game losing streak against Louisville that dates to 2001 when both schools were in Conference USA. The Bulls have rarely been competitive against the Cardinals during that stretch, as eight of the 10 losses have been by at least 14 points. Overall, South Florida is just 3-24 all-time against Louisville.
--Defending the 3-point arc generally hasn't been a problem for South Florida this season despite having a young backcourt, but Villanova lit the Bulls up from long range by making nine of 12 shots Thursday in the Wildcats' 83-7 win. Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek combined to make all nine of their 3-point attempts, with Stokes finishing with five and Cheek adding four. South Florida came into the game holding opponents to 30.8 percent on 3-pointers, which was eighth in the Big East and 62nd in the nation.
--C Augustus Gilchrist returned to the team on Dec. 22 after being away for what Coach Stan Heath termed "philosophical differences."
--F Ron Anderson Jr. has established himself as one of the toughest rebounders in the Big East, ranking fifth as conference play began as he averaged 8.2 per game.
--G Anthony Crater has done a solid job running the Bulls from the point when healthy and has a pair of 7-assist games to his credit.
BY THE NUMBERS: 71-15 -- The combined record of the seven non-conference teams that defeated South Florida prior to the beginning of conference play. It included three teams in the Top 25 -- Central Florida, BYU and Cleveland State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We never really had an answer for Gilchrist. He's one of the best big guys in the country. He absolutely was terrific." -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, in the St. Petersburg Times, on Augustus Gilchrist.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Louisville, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: Finding shots will be the big problem against the Cardinals, a defense-first team. The Cardinals went into the New Year's weekend ranked No. 4 in the nation in field goal percentage defense, allowing only 35.5 percent, which is a problem for South Florida, a team having problems scoring. Senior Preston Knowles is the leading scorer on a team that likes to push the tempo.
FUTURES MARKET: Sometimes a coach's coaching is done off the court and out of view of the public. That's what Stan Heath was doing with his big man, Augustus Gilchrist, who missed three games in the middle of the season for what the coach said was "philosophical differences." Gilchrist had underachieved through the early going, especially with star Donte Jones having moved on to the NBA and that led to some problems between coach and player. Gilchrist returned in time for Big East play.
--Junior F Augustus Gilchrist had 16 points and 10 rebounds against Villanova, both team highs, for his first double-double of the season and second of his career. He is averaging 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in the last four games after missing three consecutive games last month because of what have been termed personal reasons.
--Sophomore G Shaun Noreiga made his second career start Jan. 6, as coach Stan Heath continues to look for the right lineup combination. Noreiga finished with 13 points, two off his career high set against St. Francis (N.Y.) on Nov. 15.
--Coach Stan Heath changed his lineup for the UConn game as he returned Mike Burwell and Augustus Gilchrist to the starting unit for the first time since Dec. 4 against Florida Atlantic. Gilchrist responded with 21 points, two shy of his season high.
--Junior G Anthony Crater, coming back from an ankle sprain, hit a career-high four three-pointers and set a career high in points with 14 in an overtime loss to UConn. Crater's final 3 came at the final buzzer ending the overtime loss, after he had sent the game into overtime with a 3 with 24.8 seconds left in regulation.