Dreams of dancing in March are still alive, but the Bulls can't afford any more missteps if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament. They certainly didn't look as if they belonged on Wednesday as they were outplayed in every area of the game at Villanova.
Getting everyone involved is the key to South Florida's success. The Bulls have five guys who average nine points or more per game. In the loss to St. John's on Saturday, the Bulls got 48 of their 58 points from three players -- not exactly the balance they're used to. Only two players reached double figures on Wednesday night.
They also need more from their big men. Augustus Gilchrist has six points in his last two games and looks as if he has hit a wall after returning from a long layoff following an injury. Jarrid Famous, averaging 11.2 points, scored three points against St. John's and seven against the Wildcats.
The Bulls are home against Providence on Saturday. The Friars come to town losers of seven straight, including a 99-85 loss Tuesday to Syracuse. They then play at DePaul before ending the season at home against UConn.
The Bulls need to win all three -- and they can if they play well -- to have any shot at thinking Big Dance.
VILLANOVA 74, SOUTH FLORIDA 49: Time -- and games -- are running out for South Florida to make one more push for the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats used a 9-0 run to build a 57-41 lead with 6:32 to play and never looked back.
The Bulls are 16-11 overall and 6-9 in the Big East after losing two straight. The Wildcats improved to 22-4 overall and 11-3 in the Big East.
South Florida fell behind 8-0 and trailed 36-25 at halftime but used a 9-4 run to start the second half and cut the margin to seven points. But too many turnovers (20 for the game) and basically sloppy play caught up with them as the Wildcats pulled away.
Scottie Reynolds led the Wildcats with 16 points.
Notes & Quotes
--Sometimes being a team's top scorer can work against you, as G Dominique Jones is now learning. Jones went off on a four-game spree as January turned to February, scoring 46, 28, 37 and 29 points in consecutive games. Since then defenses have gone after him, and while hardly shutting him down, they have slowed him down. In the five games since then, Jones has scored 10, 16, 26, 17 and 12.
--Without an inside game against St. John's, F Gus Gilchrist and F Jarrid Famous combined to shoot 2-for-10 and score five points. USF launched 22 3s but managed to hit on only five.
ON THE SPOT
The Bulls have done a good job taking care of the basketball -- until Wednesday. They finished with 20 turnovers, compared to only 10 for the Wildcats. The last time USF had more than 17 turnovers was 18 against Rutgers on Jan. 16.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"It's a moving target. It changes daily. We've just got to take care of business and see where the chips land at the end of the year." -- Coach Stan Heath on his team's chances to make the NCAA Tournament after losing to St. John's.
Strategy and personnel
South Florida grew by leaps and bounds this season with G Dominique Jones leading the way. For much of the season the Bulls looked about as expected, but they got hot in late January, winning four straight games, including an upset of No. 7 Georgetown on the road. They won four consecutive home games and five of seven overall before suffering a disappointing home upset at the hands of a struggling St. John's team on Feb. 20 and then getting blown out by Villanova.
Marquette 63, South Florida 52
South Florida 65, Cincinnati 57
St. John's 74, South Florida 58
Villanova 74, South Florida 49
vs. Providence, Saturday, Feb. 27
at DePaul, Tuesday, March 2
vs. Connecticut, Saturday, March 6
All three of the Bulls' remaining regular-season games are winnable, but it remains to be seen whether they can rebound from the blowout at Villanova.
--Dominique Jones has proved to be one of the top scorers in the country. The junior guard is averaging 21.6 points per game, but Jones does more than score. He also averages six rebounds and 4.1 assists per game and is a good defender. On Wednesday, Jones was struggling with a cold and it showed. He was held without a field goal in the first half and finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
--Mike Mercer has scored in double digits in three straight games: 11 points at Villanova on Wednesday, 17 against St. John's and 12 vs. Cincinnati. The senior guard was 7 of 9 shooting (17 points) against the Red Storm. On Wednesday, he was 5 of 11 from the floor.
--Augustus Gilchrist is struggling. The big man was just 1 of 6 shooting for two points with two boards against St. John's. He didn't start against Villanova but came in early in the first half after the Bulls fell behind 8-0. He finished with just four points and eight rebounds