TAMPA — When Rick Pitino and No. 23 Louisville came into the Sun Dome on Wednesday, it concluded a ridiculous six-day parade of coaching legends in which USF played host to Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Connecticut women's coach Geno Auriemma and Pitino, who combine for 1,986 college basketball wins.
That's more than double what the USF men's and women's programs have in their entire history, and it gives Pitino the kind of wisdom to succinctly explain his Cardinals' easy 71-57 win against the Bulls.
"We have better talent," he explained. "That's what it comes down to. We have much better talent than they do. In a year or two, the talent will be fairly even. … Next year they'll be very competitive and then they'll turn the corner. Right now, the reason we have more success is more talent."
That talent included rangy 6-foot-9 forward Earl Clark, who scored 22, including three 3-pointers, and freshman Samardo Samuels, who had six of Louisville's 10 blocks before a crowd of 4,827.
Louisville's depth — nine players logged 15 minutes or more — and pressing defense harassed USF's Dominique Jones into a 1-for-10 shooting night, with one assist in 36 minutes. Coach Stan Heath was most frustrated by self-inflicted problems, such as his team's 14-for-29 free-throw shooting. Take away Jones' 8-for-11 effort at the line and the rest of the Bulls went 6-for-18.
"It's horrible; 14-for-29? That's not acceptable," Heath said. "Obviously if you just tack on about eight of those, the lead's a little bit different."
Louisville (10-3, 1-0), meanwhile, didn't get to the line in the first half. "We didn't get fouled," said Pitino, calling Big East officials "the best referees in America."
USF (5-9, 0-2) trailed 49-41 with 11 minutes to play then gave up a 12-2 run that saw five Louisville players score. In one sequence, Bulls freshman Gus Gilchrist — who had 11 points and five blocks — missed a dunk, and guard Jesus Verdejo followed with an airballed 3-pointer, followed by back-to-back turnovers and a blocked dunk attempt by Gilchrist.
The Bulls trailed 68-47 with 1:30 to play, but their reserves scored 10 in 39 seconds after both teams emptied their benches. Louisville's previous three wins against the Bulls had all been by at least 20 points.
Heath, 0-7 against ranked teams in his two seasons at USF, said he's learning the harsh reality of the depth of his new league.
"There's a lot of teams in the league that are going to have to live with this fact: We may play, and somebody else may play, a very, very good basketball game — shoot it well, defend well, take care of the ball, rebound — and still lose," he said. "And that's the problem with this league. It's so good. … We can't beat ourselves up after a loss."