LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Already short-handed because of injuries to Shaun Noriega and Kore White, USF coach Stan Heath chose to relegate two Bulls starters to the bench against Louisville.
The result was a near-historic loss for the Bulls, what Heath hopes serves as "a wakeup call" for a team that has lost three straight games to start Big East play.
The No. 3 Cardinals blasted the Bulls 64-38 on Saturday afternoon. It was the worst offensive performance for USF (9-6) since Jan. 30, 1997, when the Bulls scored 36 against Marquette.
"I'm sure Rick (Pitino, Louisville coach) had them fired up because we snuck out with one last year," said Heath, referring to the Bulls' 58-51 victory Feb. 29. "They came to play. They weren't going to let something slip up again. We caught the full wrath."
Heath chose to start freshmen Zach LeDay and JaVontae Hawkins in place of senior Jawanza Poland and junior Victor Rudd. The upperclassmen went a combined 4-of-18 in a 61-53 loss to Villanova on Wednesday at the Sun Dome. By the time Poland and Rudd entered the game, with 8:50 left in the first half, Louisville (15-1, 3-0) led 25-8.
"If you watched our last game, their effort wasn't really there," Heath said of Poland and Rudd. "Their focus wasn't really there. They're two upperclassmen, and it's just not acceptable. … So it was hopefully a wakeup call."
Despite the demotion, Rudd paced the team with 10 points and eight rebounds.
In searching for a silver lining, Heath noted that the Bulls held the Cardinals to 38 percent shooting. But Louisville dominated the boards, outrebounding the Bulls 49-24, including a 19-6 edge in offensive rebounds.
"The one thing we were preaching is in (USF's) five (prior) losses, it was (due to) double-digit offensive rebounding," Pitino said. "That was going to be one of our focal points tonight, was rebounding. We played as if every shot was going to be a pass to somebody."
In losses to Syracuse, Villanova and Louisville, the Bulls have been outrebounded 134-82. They allowed 57 offensive rebounds.
Louisville was led by senior guard Peyton Siva, who finished with 17 points. Junior center Gorgui Dieng scored 12 and grabbed 16 rebounds.
The Bulls travel to Rutgers on Thursday. Despite the 0-3 conference start, Rudd said it's not too late.
"We still have a chance to grind it," he said.