With what is apparently the best team in the AAC coming to town, no one was expecting the Bulls to dominate much of this game. But they came out playing some serious ball for most of the first half. USF passes were crisp, rebounds were getting pulled in, and Tulsa was turning the ball over. Still, the Bulls' lead was only ever as high as seven points and Tulsa chipped away at it as they settled into a rhythm. USF held on with a 24-24 tie for about a minute, but once the Golden Hurricane got the lead with about five minutes left in the half, they never looked back.
Although the Bulls continued to play hard, Tulsa had built a solid double-digit lead just eight minutes into the second half. When USF couldn't get the ball into the paint, their outside shots wouldn't fall. Nehemias Morillo, who had been on fire earlier in the game, cooled off. Meanwhile Tulsa star guard James Woodard started burying threes. Jaleel Cousins deserves credit for his efforts late in the game as he started snagging rebounds, drawing fouls and making free throws. However any surge the Bulls could muster was too little, too late.
The big men were key in this game, and they were called on to do the bulk of the scoring. With starters Chris Perry and Ruben Guerrero in the game, USF looked as good as Tulsa in the paint. But when the starters needed to rest or sit due to foul trouble, the lack-of-depth problem reared its head again. Dre Clayton and Jaleel Cousins would rotate in to play under the basket and their shooting, rebounding and defense were just not as good.
"They were really hurting us with their post-up game," said Tulsa Coach Frank Haith of USF in the first half. But clearly Haith's team got a handle on the game without too much trouble. "This was a really important game for us," Haith added. "We put a lot of prep work into it."
USF Coach Orlando Antigua was disappointed with the loss. "When you're playing a team as good as Tulsa is . . . you can't give them any kind of glimpse of hope to get going," he said after the game. A lack of execution was to blame in his point of view. The big men were good, but not good enough. Tulsa runs a three quarter trap defense, which Antigua had prepared the team for, but it still was a major problem for the Bulls. Forward Bo Ziegler spent the game on the bench with a minor injury and Corey Allen Jr. was not at 100 percent, said Antigua. Allen played for 23 minutes but only attempted three shots, making none.
So USF can outplay UConn for half of the game, put together a frenzied rally to take Tulane to overtime and hang around the best team in the conference, all in losing efforts. The talent this team has is obvious. But the only way they will get better at basketball is to play more basketball, so I guess we have to wait.
"The future is very bright for us," said Troy Holston Jr. after today's loss. And he's right. But from the bottom of the conference, losing ten of the last twelve games, that future feels terribly distant.