CINCINNATI (AP)—Another ugly, lackluster performance made coach Bob Huggins cover his eyes and ponder major changes for the season’s closing weeks.
That’s how bad No. 13 Cincinnati has become.
Tony Bobbitt scored a season-high 26 points Wednesday night, rallying the struggling Bearcats to an 80-67 victory over South Florida that was totally unsatisfying.
The Bearcats were full of swagger as they crushed teams with their press and opened the season with 13 wins. All of that has changed in the last two weeks.
Cincinnati (17-3, 8-2 Conference USA) lost to Charlotte and Xavier, then struggled mightily to beat lowly Houston and South Florida. The Bearcats led by only eight points late in the second half Wednesday night before Bobbitt started a 12-point run with two 3s.
Afterward, he called a team meeting in his dorm room to discuss what’s wrong.
“Guys are tired,” said Bobbitt, who went 8-of-11 from behind the arc. “We can’t blame the coaching staff. We’ve got to suck it up and keep going.
“With our team right now, we’re looking at the hard things instead of looking at the positive things and pushing through it. If we keep looking at the hard things, it’s going to be a disaster.”
Huggins thinks it’s close to that point already. Incensed by his team’s lethargic defense, he abandoned the full-court press that was the foundation of the 13-0 start.
“It’s like a fullcourt pickup game,” Huggins said, in a voice raspy from screaming at his team. “We’ve got those fat guys under the basket who don’t get back, and it’s a 5-on-3. I’ve never had guys stand around and watch in my life.
“We’ve seen the last of the press. You can’t press with guys that won’t run back on defense.”
South Florida (6-14, 0-9) has lost nine in a row, its deepest slump since a nine-game streak seven years ago. The Bulls trailed by only eight points with 9 minutes left, before their lack of depth did them in.
Bobbitt, making his first start because point guard Nick Williams was sidelined by a sprained ankle, went 9-of-13 overall from the field. Jason Maxiell added 12 points.
Brian Swift led South Florida with 23 points, and Bradley Mosley added 18.
The Bulls were struggling just to field a team. Two players suffered serious injuries and guard Sam Barber was kicked off the team during the current losing streak, leaving them with only nine players—three of them walk-ons.
They didn’t have the depth to keep up with the Bearcats, who have 10 players averaging at least 11 minutes. For much of the game, it didn’t matter.
“There’s some things about that team that I really like,” Bulls coach Robert McCullum said of Cincinnati. “I don’t think they’re as close to being as good as they could be.”
They were so ragged that Huggins covered his face with his left hand and assistant Dan Peters covered his eyes in the closing seconds of the first half, which ended with the Bearcats ahead 34-21.
Cincinnati went only 8-of-17 from the free throw line in the half, Maxiell missed an attempted dunk and the Bearcats shot 37.9 percent from the field.
They got plenty of help from the Bulls. Three South Florida players had picked up their third fouls with 5:50 left in the half, forcing McCullum to lean on what passes for his bench these days.
In one strange sequence, the Bulls got three fouls in 2 seconds—two of them intentional. Swift grabbed Chadd Moore on a breakaway layup for the first one. Brandon Brigman grabbed Eric Hicks’ jersey on the inbound play for another intentional foul, and Brigman fouled Maxiell a second later on the inbound pass.
Bobbitt hit two 3-pointers that pushed the lead to 19 points early in the second half, but Huggins became so enraged with his team’s lax defense that he called a timeout and substituted all five players with 16:38 to go.
It didn’t work. Terrence Leather hit a 3 and four free throws, and Brigman hit a bank shot that cut it to 51-41 with 10 minutes left. Brigman fouled out 37 seconds later.
Mosley’s driving layup cut it to 51-43, but the Bulls got no closer. Bobbitt hit consecutive 3s to start a decisive 12-point spurt.