Do not be misled by the 53 points South Florida scored Saturday. The Bulls offense was much worse than that.
In a battle between two of the most inept offenses in Conference USA, USF proved more impotent than even Houston, enduring numerous lengthy scoring droughts in a 65-53 loss before 3,574.
The Bulls continued the maddening trend of stumbling out of the gate _ it was 8-0 at the first media timeout _ and didn't make a field goal in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Only a yeoman effort by Terrence Leather, who had 22 points and 18 rebounds, kept USF from getting stomped.
"We've got to have someone else (besides Leather) stepping up and making shots," said USF coach Robert McCullum, whose team has dropped its five C-USA games by at least 12 points and by an average of 25. "If we don't, it's going to be difficult to change the outcome.
"(The slow start) is extremely frustrating. That's something that we've talked about for quite some time."
Houston (8-10, 2-5) entered the game last among C-USA teams in scoring (58.3 ppg) and last in every shooting category (field goal, 3-point and free-throw percentage). The Bulls were last in scoring in C-USA games (48 ppg), just ahead of, surprise, the Cougars (49.8).
USF (6-10, 0-5) had six healthy scholarship players after James Holmes, who had a career-high 10 points in Tuesday's loss at Memphis, reinjured his ankle Friday. Seven Bulls played and four went 35 minutes or more. Walk-on Brian Graham played 35 minutes.
"Clearly, not having (Holmes) made a difference," McCullum said.
The Bulls shot 21.4 percent in the first half (28.6 percent overall) and trailed 28-18 at halftime. At halftime, 24 former Bulls, including all-time leading scorer Charlie Bradley, were honored. It didn't provide a spark.
USF made its first field goal of the second half with 9:41 left, on a steal and layup by Bradley Mosley that cut it to 41-30. If the Bulls had the manpower to fullcourt press for more than the final 10 minutes, they might have blown out the frazzled Cougars, who were flustered by it. Instead, USF barely made things interesting and never got closer than nine.
"When we put (the press) on, they weren't expecting it," USF point guard Brian Swift said. "If we had fresh guys it would have been a lot more effective."
Houston shot 47.8 percent (22 of 46) from the field, more than 9 percentage points better than its best in C-USA play. USF was 14 of 49, 28.6 percent.
Most disheartening was that the Bulls had played much better in the 66-53 loss at Memphis. Plus, USF was favored over Houston, which had lost seven of eight, and the Bulls were at home for the first time since Jan. 10.
"It's discouraging. We didn't come out with the sense of urgency that you need," Swift said. "This was one of the games that could have gone either way."
Leather was 13 of 19 from the free-throw line, the fourth-most made and third-most attempted in school history. His 18 rebounds tied B.B. Waldon for most by a USF player since Gary Alexander had 20 in 1992.
The defeat is a blow to USF's chances of making the C-USA tournament. Twelve of the 14 teams qualify.
Tuesday the Bulls host bottom-dweller East Carolina, which never has won a C-USA road game and is winless in the league this season.