TAMPA — It was the same frustrating script for Stan Heath against a different elite Big East opponent Sunday, as USF showed it can play with anyone in the conference … for about 35 minutes.
The Bulls led Louisville by five in the second half, but a drought of 6:27 without a field goal helped Rick Pitino's team escape with an 86-77 victory, handing the Bulls their sixth close loss in a row before an announced 4,375 in the Sun Dome.
"South Florida … is going to get some quality wins," Pitino said after improving to 8-0 against the Bulls in Big East play. "They're a very good basketball team, probably the most difficult team we've played in a while in terms of trying to stop the low post. … We had a good run, they didn't quit, they came back, had their run, then we had another run again. We're real happy to get a road victory."
USF (6-11, 0-4 Big East) got a strong game from forward Augustus Gilchrist, with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but his supporting cast wasn't around down the stretch, totaling five points in the final 9:43.
"Thought we were going to steal this one," said Heath, whose team has another Big East challenge Wednesday at No. 24 Cincinnati.
After falling behind 64-55, the Bulls rallied for a 10-0 run, taking the lead on free throws by Jawanza Poland after a 3-pointer by Shaun Noriega. From that 9:43 mark, they didn't hit a shot from the field until 3:16 was left and Louisville (13-2, 2-0) had a seven-point lead. The Cardinals sealed the game at the free-throw line, where they went 23-for-26.
USF held the Cardinals' top scorers in check, but little-used forward Stephan Van Treese, who had totaled 12 points in the previous nine games, went off for 12 points and 14 rebounds.
"Who is Van Treese?" Heath asked after the game. "He had a great game. The guy's averaging about 11 minutes per game, four points, three rebounds, something like that, and he was good. He was on the boards, making a lot of things happen. You play percentages as a coach, and you expect certain things to sometimes get a little better."
USF got 14 points each from Noriega and Poland, and point guard Anthony Crater reset his career high in assists with 10 after he had eight in Thursday's loss to No. 7 Villanova.
"I'm proud of our guys. We're playing hard, not burying our heads," Heath said. "We're playing against some really good basketball teams. We're doing good things, continuing to get better. We're going to turn this corner. There's no doubt in my mind. We're going to win some games. We're going to look back on these times as a trial, a tough experience we're going through to get better."