TAMPA — USF coach Stan Heath said it bluntly: With the lack of intensity his team had against No. 8 Notre Dame, the game was bound to end in one of two scenarios.
The Bulls were either going to get beaten or they were going to get beaten badly. The latter happened.
Notre Dame (21-4, 10-3 Big East) routed USF (8-18, 2-11) 78-55 on Saturday at the Sun Dome in front of an announced crowd of 6,104, the Bulls' fourth consecutive conference loss and one of the most disappointing efforts of the season for Heath.
"There's just no excuse," Heath said. "You try to find five players who want to play, and I'm in the locker room trying to figure out, 'Are we scared of them, or are we just not tough enough?' I don't know which one it is. Either one is not good."
The Bulls scored six points in the first 10 minutes of the game and shot 30 percent from the floor, including a season-low 20 percent in the first half. At one point, USF trailed by 38, and it never got within 18 points of the Irish in the second half.
Though senior point guard Ben Hansbrough, the Big East's fourth-leading scorer, was held in check for most of the game — he finished with 12 points — the Irish found offense in other areas. Notre Dame shot 55.7 percent from the floor, 66.7 percent in the first half, and six players finished in double figures, including a career-high 18 points off the bench from sophomore forward Jack Cooley.
Cooley's total was good enough to match USF's entire starting lineup combined. No USF starter scored more than six points. And in the one area Heath thought he might have an advantage, the Irish outscored the Bulls in the paint 48-26.
"We weren't ready to play from the get-go," said sophomore guard Shaun Noriega, who was 6-for-10 from 3-point range to score a career-high 23 points off the bench. "They took advantage of that and just pounded us. We weren't ready, which is inexcusable."
Heath said he felt USF carried a hangover from Wednesday night's loss to Marquette, when the Bulls blew a 16-point second-half lead. The Bulls will have to put Saturday's loss behind them quickly, as they travel to face league leader Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
"That's just a sign of … a lack of maturity," Heath said. "You can't fix what happened yesterday. The only thing you can do is say, 'I've got an opportunity today. I'm going to take advantage of it. I'm going to play my best.' … So that was disappointing."