CINCINNATI — USF's latest Big East winning streak ended like all its previous winning streaks during the program's four-plus years in the league — at one game.
The Bulls, who last week beat Rutgers for their first league victory of the season, lost to short-handed Cincinnati 78-70 Wednesday at Fifth Third Arena.
"You never get an easy break in your schedule, no matter who you are," USF coach Stan Heath said. "We were hoping we'd build on that momentum and hope to hang around tonight and steal a win. It just didn't happen for us."
The Bearcats (13-6, 4-3) played with their top guard in street clothes and their top post player in foul trouble. Yet the Bulls (11-7, 1-5) gave up their second-highest point total of the season.
"We just didn't guard; we didn't defend," Heath said. "You've got to bring your defense when you go on the road. Tonight we didn't have ours. …
"I was afraid we let our guard down a little bit and relaxed."
USF, which trailed by nine at halftime, cut the lead to 61-56 with 5:36 to play when Anthony Crater scored on back-to-back layups off steals. But Cincinnati regained a double-digit lead with a 6-0 run.
Cincinnati senior guard Deonta Vaughn, who moved from point guard to shooting guard while freshman standout Lance Stephenson nursed a sprained ankle, did most of the damage offensively. He finished with a team-high 20 points.
That output was doubly important due to the limited action of forward Yancy Gates. The Bearcats' top post presence had just eight points in 10 minutes due to foul trouble.
"For us to shoot the percentages we shot tonight, you've got to be happy with that," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, whose team shot 55.6 percent from the field. "Our offense was excellent."
Junior guard Dominique Jones led the Bulls with 21 points but was just 1-of-7 from 3-point range. As a team, USF made just 3 of 18 3-pointers.
"(Jones) got some better looks in the second half," Heath said. "It wasn't one of his better games. But the guy does a lot for us, so I can't complain."
The Bulls remained one game out of last place in the Big East. They'll next travel to Providence on Saturday, then play host to Seton Hall on Jan. 28.
"It's been frustrating, but it's a long season," Jones said. "(But) those are both winnable games. We just have to come prepared."