AUBURN, Ala. — Defense has rarely been an issue for USF this season.
But the Bulls have a big problem putting the ball in the basket.
An ugly offensive performance sent USF spiraling to its third loss in the past four games, 52-40 Wednesday night at the hands of lightly regarded SEC opponent Auburn.
"We couldn't pick and roll, we couldn't find the basket and we just couldn't score," USF coach Stan Heath said.
USF (6-5) opened on a 9-2 run built on a Shaun Noriega 3-pointer and three quick baskets from center Augustus Gilchrist, who found room early against a frontline lacking in bulk.
That burst was the only offensive spark USF could find all night. The Bulls shot 33.3 percent from the field, 22.2 percent from 3-point range and only made 50 percent of their free throws.
"He's a good player," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "We got to him early with some of our pressure."
Gilchrist had a team-high 10 points, but the Bulls struggled to find offense elsewhere.
"I thought Augustus Gilchrist had a terrific first half, but we were searching for a second or third option, and we never found that alternative guy to help move the offense," Heath said.
Playing its first game in nearly two weeks, Auburn (5-1) shook off its rust late in the first half and slowly pulled away in the second behind 12 points from sixth man Chris Denson.
USF held Auburn to eight points in the first 10 minutes, but the Bulls failed to capitalize.
USF got outrebounded 34-26.
"We didn't let our lack of offense in that first 10 minutes bury us," Barbee said.
Midway through the second half, USF trailed 37-32. A pair of 3-pointers from Auburn's Kenny Gabriel and Frankie Sullivan, plus a driving layup by Denson helped Auburn to a 14-3 run with 6:47 left.
Unable to regularly get the ball to Gilchrist deep in the post, the Bulls offense had no answer.