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Humbled Bulls face challenge of bouncing back

No one threw towels, clumps of tape or even a tantrum. They just sat like statues, not even staring at one another, hunched over on the benches in the UAB Arena locker room. The University of South Florida Bulls were simply shellshocked after their shellacking Saturday afternoon by the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers.

The Bulls (15-7 overall, 7-3 in the Sun Belt Conference), who had charged into second place in the Sun Belt, fully expected to put up a fight against the league's top team. They didn't.

The Blazers, like skillful matadors, stuck it to the Bulls swiftly, outscoring them 19-2 in a 6:30 span to take a 22-4 lead with 12:11 to play in the first half. UAB then shifted to cruise control for an 82-64 win.

UAB also whipped USF at the Sun Dome, 83-66 on Jan. 8.

"The real key was UAB getting off to a quick start and us not doing anything right off the bat," USF coach Bobby Paschal said. "That set the tone for the whole game.

"But the thing I'm most displeased with is that we really didn't give our best effort in either UAB game. We didn't challenge them as much as we can."

While Paschal said he may not know if his team can stop the UAB juggernaut, he knows a successful season and a possible National Invitational Tournament bid hinges on how well the Bulls regroup now.

The Bulls, who play at Old Dominion on Thursday, have five regular-season games left, including two at home and one at Miami, a team USF defeated handily in January.

If the Bulls can win three more and a game in the conference tournament in Birmingham March 3-5, then the NIT is certainly possible.

USF has made three NIT appearances in its 19-year history (1981, 1983 and 1985).

"I don't want us to feel like we're finished," Paschal said. "We're not. Not by any stretch. I don't want us to say we've done all we can do. We haven't.

"The important thing is how we react to this game. We have to respond to it and be better next time we step out on the court. And I'm confident our guys will bounce back from this."

USF journeyed to Maryland on Jan. 23 and was similarly dominated in every phase of the game. After that 84-66 loss, the Bulls went on a school-record, five-game conference win streak.

"We took one on the chin tonight," USF sophomore forward and captain Fred Lewis said after the UAB game. "But we're not discouraged. We're going to learn from this and we're going to see these guys again. We'll be back."