South Florida has to play slow in order to win. The slower the better. The Bulls don't have the talent or depth to play end-to-end against the rest of the Big East.
That was painfully evident Wednesday night as South Florida blew a 16-point lead in the last 14 minutes and lost to visiting Marquette 59-58. The Golden Eagles started playing a full-court trapping defense and South Florida (8-17, 2-10 Big East) wilted under the pressure, making just four field goals during Marquette's game-ending 31-14 run.
"They laid a trap for us and we fell into it," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "They wanted to speed us up and get us out of control, and we helped them."
South Florida averages just 62.6 possessions per game, which ranks 327th among the 345 Division I teams. Marquette forced the Bulls into 18 turnovers by speeding up the tempo, including six by sophomore forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.
South Florida has lost three straight games, five of its last six and 12 of its last 14. Things get no easier when No. 9 Notre Dame (20-4, 9-3) visits on Saturday afternoon riding a six-game winning streak. However, the good news for the Bulls is that the Fighting Irish also like to take things slow and their average of 64.8 possessions a game is 281st in the nation as of Feb. 8.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Scoring has been a problem for South Florida and a big reason why it is headed for a 20-loss season a year after being one of the surprise teams in the Big East and playing in the NIT. South Florida has been held to 59 points or less eight times this season and has lost each game. Conversely, the Bulls are a respectable 8-9 when they score at least 60 points.
--Toarlyn Fitzpatrick had 16 points and 13 rebounds, both team highs, for his third career double-double in the Feb. 9 loss to Marquette. However, in addition to the game-high six turnovers, Fitzpatrick also made a free throw he was intentionally trying to miss in the closing seconds. He went to the foul line with 1.4 seconds left and South Florida trailing 59-56, and made the first free throw. Then he accidentally banked in the second shot and Marquette ran out the clock for the one-point victory.
--F Augustus Gilchrist made 4 of 8 shots from the field as he finished with 11 points. That was an encouraging sign after Gilchrist was a combined 8-for-35 (22.8 percent) in the previous three games.
--Assistant coach Jeremy Cox is surfacing as a possible candidate for the head coaching job at Wyoming, where Heath Schroyer was fired Monday. Cox began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Cowboys during the 1991-92 season and his wife is a graduate of the university.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- South Florida had the 10th hardest schedule in the country through Feb. 5, according to CollegeRPI.com.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to get Gus going; it's been about two or three games he hasn't been in a great rhythm. When he's not 14-, 15- and sometimes 20-point guy, that's a big weapon we're missing out on." -- USF Coach Stan Heath on F Augustus Gilchrist, who has had a tough scoring.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Notre Dame, Feb. 12
KEY MATCHUPS: The third of three straight home games gives South Florida a chance against a team that is much better at home. The Irish, however, may just have too much depth and senior power for USF to compete. F Ben Hansbrough is a handful for anyone, ranking fourth in the conference in scoring with 16.9 per game entering the week, while G Tim Abromaitis was not far behind at 14.2. Notre Dame also was second in the Big East in taking care of the ball, an area where South Florida has been deficient.
FUTURES MARKET: Turning around a program is never an easy chore, as South Florida Coach Stan Heath knows. He is currently in his third season of trying to raise the Bulls to a Big East level. A year ago his team won 20 games but has slumped off this season, however, his track record says that he can get the job done. A former Tom Izzo assistant at Michigan State, he won 30 games in his first season as a head coach at Kent State, before taking over at Arkansas. After winning nine games his first season and 12 his second, he ran off seasons of 18, 22 and 21 before moving to South Florida.
--F Augustus Gilchrist is the heart and soul of the USF offense but Syracuse completely wrapped him up, holding him to 2-of-10 shooting, producing just four points. It was Gilchrist's lowest point total in Big East play.
--Sophomore G Jawanza Poland had been coming on for USF before Syracuse, scoring in double figures in six of his previous seven games, including a career-high 20 against Notre Dame. Against Syracuse he got into foul trouble, fouling eventually with just eight points in 24 minutes. "It took probably, at this point (in the season), our best scorer out of the lineup," Coach Stan Heath said.