TAMPA — For a program thirsting for positive vibes, USF's recent three-game nonconference win streak — its first in three years — was a welcome morsel of history.
Now for the mountain of reality.
The Bulls still have quite a climb before seriously contending for an American Athletic Conference title.
Overmatched inside and playing without top scorer Payton Banks (illness), USF fell to Houston 79-60 Thursday in the conference opener for both teams before an announced crowd of 2,273 at the Sun Dome.
The Bulls (7-7), whose overhauled roster features nine new scholarship players and a new coaching staff, never led. A minute into the game, they trailed 6-0. Four minutes in, they were down 16-5.
USF trimmed the deficit to three a couple of times early in the first half, but it couldn't neutralize the Cougars' depth and dominance in the paint (30-18 scoring advantage inside) or they're mostly proficient shooting (28-of-62 from the floor).
Additionally, the Bulls managed only 11 assists (two in the second half) and committed 13 turnovers.
"It's gonna be tough to win, as I've said from Day 1," said first-year USF coach Brian Gregory, whose team shot only 31.6 percent (18-of-57). "We've got to get a lot of good basketball from a lot of guys; that's just the fact. You can maybe survive with one guy not having a good game. It's hard when three guys don't play well."
As it stood, freshmen Justin Collins and David Brown led the Bulls with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Playing with a brace on his recently injured left knee, Collins hit a 3 midway through the first half to cut the deficit to 21-18. But in a sequence that exemplified the night, the Cougars (11-2) responded with an 8-0 run.
They led 42-33 at halftime, then opened the second half with a 12-2 run. "We had some stretches where we fought the way we're supposed to fight," Gregory said. "Those need to be lengthened."e_SClBWomen
No. 13 FSU 82, Jacksonville 50: Imani Wright scored 24, leading four into double figures for the host Seminoles (12-1), the 12th time in 13 games they have had four or more reach double figures.
No. 2 Notre Dame 87, 'CUSE 72: Jessica Shepard, playing despite a sprained ankle, had 24 points and 12 rebounds as the host Irish (12-1) pulled away in the third quarter of the ACC opener for both teams.
No. 3 L'ville 74, Ga. Tech 71: Asia Durr returned to her hometown and scored 38, but it took Myisha Hines-Allen's driving layup with 1.9 seconds left to save the visiting Cardinals in the ACC opener for both teams. The Yellow Jackets built a 22-13 lead with 9:55 left in the second only to watch Louisville (15-0) close the quarter on a 33-12 run in which Durr scored 18. With the score tied at 71 with 5.5 seconds left, Arica Carter inbounded to Hines-Allen just beyond the free-throw lane. She drove the right side and banked in the winner.
No. 5 Miss. St. 112, Miss. Valley St. 36: Teaira McCowan scored a career-high 41 in helping the host Bulldogs (14-0) score the second-most points in school history.
No. 6 Baylor 88, Kansas St. 58: Kalani Brown scored 20 on 7-of-10 shooting to lead the visiting Bears (10-1) in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
No. 8 Texas 88, Oklahoma 78: Lashann Higgs scored a career-high 25 and the visiting Longhorns (10-1) won in Norman for the first time since the 2009-10 season. It was the Big 12 opener for both teams.
No. 9 W.?VA. 87, TCU 82: Katrina Pardee and Chania Ray combined on two quick baskets in the fourth quarter to finally put the visiting Mountaineers (13-0) ahead to stay in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.