TAMPA — Rebounding has been and will likely be a problem for USF men's basketball this season, and the lack of physical post play was glaring in Wednesday's 61-53 loss to Villanova, which dropped the Bulls to 0-2 in Big East play.
"Villanova's bigs dominated the game tonight. We just didn't have an answer," coach Stan Heath said after his team was outrebounded 26-15 in the first half. "They scored inside. They rebounded. They got second shots, third shots. We didn't have an answer against that size and strength they had."
USF (9-5) now must go to No. 3 Louisville on Saturday afternoon then visit Rutgers on Jan. 17, facing the possibility of an 0-4 conference start. The Bulls were outscored 30-14 in the post Wednesday and 17-2 on second-chance points, with Villanova's Mouphtaou Yarou going for 16 points and 13 rebounds. No USF player mustered more than five boards.
"We have been a good rebounding team. It has been a strength for us. We were hoping we could establish that early, and we did," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "That was important for us."
Playing before an announced crowd of 5,014, the Bulls fell behind 34-17 late in the first half after a 14-2 Villanova run in which the Bulls went 1-for-9 from the field with three turnovers.
USF was unable to get closer than eight points, as Villanova (11-4, 2-0) hit enough shots to keep the Bulls from making any sustained runs in the second half.
"We gave the game away in the first half. Down 14, it's tough to come back from that, against any team in our league," said forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, held to 10 points and three rebounds. "We have to come ready to play from the beginning, and we didn't do that."
USF's top scorer, forward Victor Rudd, didn't hit a field goal until 7:04 was left in the game, finishing with 12 points; point guard Anthony Collins had 11 points but just four assists, half his season average.
USF lost only two home games all of last season, but the Bulls have now dropped four games in the renovated Sun Dome, unable to find the same home magic they had during last year's NCAA Tournament run. Heath said if his team is to compete in the Big East, it has to come out with an energy that wasn't there in Wednesday night's loss.
"I thought the game was decided in the first part of the game. They set the tone early, with the inside game, rebounding and scoring inside," Heath said. "That difference, that 10 or 12 points, we never really recovered."
Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.