West Virginia hands USF sixth straight loss
TAMPA -- Shorthanded and struggling to keep up with Big East competition for a full 40 minutes, USF is understandably showing signs of fatigue down the stretch. Sunday 's 64-50 loss to West Virginia was the Bulls' sixth straight, all by at least 10 points.
"There's going to be a point in the game where you have go up one more notch to get over that hump and finish it. We're struggling to find that," said point guard Chris Howard, who had 10 points and matched a career high with 11 assists. "Hopefully, we have two more games and the mindset is to finish out strong and get these two."
The Bulls (8-20, 3-13 in Big East) played well early, leading 24-23 and trailing 30-27 at the half before a Sun Dome crowd announced at 5,082. West Virginia (20-9, 9-7) got a boost from senior guard Alex Ruoff, a Brooksville Central graduate who was held scoreless until 1:01 remained in the first half.
Ruoff hit a 3-pointer before the half, then scored eight points as West Virginia opened the second half on a 10-1 run, and the Bulls wouldn't get closer than seven points again. A 3-pointer from guard Dominique Jones cut the lead to 9 with 3:56 to play, but the Bulls didn't score again.
Ruoff led West Virginia with 16 points, and the Mountaineers outrebounded USF 38-25, including 15 offensive boards.
"It's been huge for us all year," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "We're not very big, but we're long and because of the way we play offensively, we try to get people spread out on defense."
USF, which already had lost guard Mike Mercer and center B.J. Ajayi to season-ending knee injuries, played without its No. 2 scorer, guard Jesus Verdejo, who has been limited by an injured foot.
"You're looking at potentially three starters that aren't playing for us," coach Stan Heath said. "That's a huge number. It doesn't mean all the sudden you're challenging for the league championship, but it's a difference in how fresh these guys are at the end of the game."
The Bulls have their home finale Tuesday against Cincinnati, then have one more chance to win Saturday at Rutgers, which is 1-13 in league play, before playing in the conference tournament.