TAMPA — Thanks to problems with the coronavirus, the USF men’s basketball team had not played a game since Jan. 9.
During the 32-day layoff — the fourth longest this year for a men’s NCAA team — the Bulls held only two full practices, on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Several players during the layoff not only didn’t touch a basketball for as much as 12 straight days, but they didn’t even workout. Sometimes, two players were allowed to go through drills together (socially distanced), but more often than not, the layoff meant a lot of time cooped up in their apartments.
With questions about sharpness, fitness and chemistry running through their heads, the Bulls finally took to the court on Wednesday at Yuengling Center and were promptly greeted with the country’s No. 8 team, Houston.
Many predicted it would be ugly for the Bulls.
At first it actually wasn’t too bad (the score was tied at 27 with 6:45 left in the first half), then things steadily unraveled, ultimately leading to an 82-65 victory for the Cougars.
USF coach Brian Gregory said he was pleased overall through the first half, then acknowledged that part of the problem in the second half was simply fatigue from not playing or practicing. Gregory did, however, emphasize that fatigue or not, the Bulls must do a better job protecting the ball, a problem that had too often surfaced before the layoff.
USF (7-6, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) ended up with 15 turnovers, seven more than the Cougars (17-2, 11-2).
“Our goal is to have 12 turnovers or less and we’re not getting that,” said Gregory, who pointed out that Houston held a 21-6 advantage on points off turnovers.
On the defensive side, the Bulls too often looked out of sorts, another issue that appeared to do with simple fitness and rust from not having played together.
Moving forward, USF faces many challenges, namely getting back into basketball shape as soon as possible. On Thursday, for instance, the team will take a day off to recover.
“We’re going to have some sore guys (on Thursday), no doubt about that,” Gregory said. “We will have to be professional about it and take care of our bodies because we have to get in some practice on Friday and Saturday (before playing Tulane on Sunday).”
On Wednesday, David Collins led the Bulls with 18 points, followed by Michael Durr’s 14. Alexis Yetna finished with just six points and missed on five of six attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
On the other side, Houston, led by Quentin Grimes’ game-high 29 points and DeJon Jarreau’s 17, was smooth and in sync, prompting Gregory to say the Cougars were a team capable of reaching the Final Four and seriously contending for a national title.
The loss for USF also extended a frustrating nine-year string of losses against teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25. The last time USF defeated a top-25 team was 2012 when the Bulls beat No. 19 Louisville 58-51. Against top-10 teams, the Bulls have not won since 2010 when they beat No. 7 Georgetown 72-64. The Bulls have now lost 31 straight against ranked opponents.