TAMPA — Short-handed 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 mind-set is to finish out strong and get these two."
The Bulls (8-20, 3-13) 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 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 nine 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 an injured foot.
"You're looking at potentially three starters that aren't playing for us," said USF coach Stan Heath, who was assessed a technical foul — his first in two season with the Bulls — after arguing a foul called on forward Aris Williams in the second half. "That's a huge number. It doesn't mean all a 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.