VILLANOVA, Pa. — Last year must seem like light years ago to USF. So many things went right for it in a 22-14 campaign that got the Bulls to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
But that was then, and this is now. The Bulls plummeted to 10-13 — just one fewer loss than they had all last season — and 1-10 in the Big East after digging a 23-point first-half hole in Saturday's dreary 68-40 loss at Villanova.
Coach Stan Heath didn't blame the loss of leading scorer Victor Rudd, who strained his groin last week in practice and was held out, for USF's sixth straight loss. Rudd's absence didn't justify a woeful performance in which USF made its first shot, then only 4-of-21 for the remainder of the first half while letting the Wildcats have their way in the paint and in rebounding.
By the end, after USF needed a late flurry against walk-ons to avoid being doubled up, Heath could only hope it was just one of those days.
"We're struggling right now, and the basket seems really small," Heath said of USF, which shot 11-for-47 (23.4 percent) and was outrebounded 39-28 total, 21-8 in the first half. "That affects everything we do and affects our defense. It's confidence. We're not executing great, and teams are disrupting us."
Coach Jay Wright's Wildcats (15-9, 6-5) did whatever they wanted at both ends. Villanova turned a 16-11 lead with 9:11 left in the first half into a 39-16 blowout by intermission.
The second half wasn't any better for the Bulls, who didn't reach 30 points until 5:44 was left, though they never stopped hustling after loose balls and trying to defend.
"We're a little frustrated as a team," said freshman JaVontae Hawkins, who came off the bench to score 13, USF's only player in double figures. "We've been losing games, so we've been showing our frustration.
"Not having Victor affected us a lot. He's our leader out there. He's a scorer and a key on defense. But credit Villanova. They played well.
"It was just one of those days where we couldn't make a shot."
Heath hopes that will change for Wednesday's home game against Providence. Plus, he said he thought Rudd could be back by then.
"I don't know how much difference he could've made," Heath said. "Victor's one of those guys who, when he gets on a streak, opens things up for everybody.
"But no one's going to feel sorry for you. You just have to make the most with what you have."
Villanova got 17 points from guard Darrun Hilliard and shot 22-for-42, 52.4 percent.