TAMPA – The Bulls entered Sunday’s game against SMU with an opportunity to pick up their first 20-win regular season in program history and their first 20-win season overall since 2011-12.
A victory would have also given USF a record 15 home wins.
Alas, history at the Yuengling Center on senior day would not be made as the Bulls, playing without injured guard Laquincy Rideau, lost to the Mustangs 77-71.
Rideau has been bothered by a right foot injury that forced him to miss Wednesday night’s win at Tulane while limiting his practice time in recent weeks.
“We’re at 19 wins and we could have had something that would have been real nice to accomplish today, so I am disappointed in that,” said USF coach Brian Gregory on not getting the 20th victory. “I’m a competitive guy and I’m ticked off right now. We didn’t perform well, and we have all year long. When you take a step back, we have done a lot of good things and made some great progress with the program.”
The focus shifts to Memphis for the American Athletic Conference tournament. USF (19-12/8-10) is the No. 8 seed and will play No. 9 seed UConn (15-16/6-12) in the opening round Thursday. Tipoff is 1 p.m. on ESPNU.
“Our guys have been good about responding,” said Gregory, in looking ahead to the tournament. “In a perfect world you win 20 games in the regular season and you become the only team in the history of the program to win 20 regular-season games. We didn’t do that. So now you need to take a step back, recalibrate and get ready for Thursday.”
The Bulls have lost six of their last seven conference games, mostly against top teams. They have three days to, as Gregory said, “recalibrate” before tipping off against the Huskies.
“I think we just need to get back to practice and (restore) our identity,” said sophomore guard David Collins, who had 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists Sunday. “By playing hard and outworking the other team, that will get us back on track.”
Rideau’s foot injury, though, will be the leading topic heading into the tournament. The junior guard is second in team scoring (12.9 points) and leads the conference in assists (5.5) and steals (2.9).
“He is a tough enough kid where he will play, but at the same time we need him to be effective,” said Gregory. “I don’t need him getting frustrated out there because he is not in rhythm. He is a rhythm player and the only way to do that is to practice and (get) reps. He just hasn’t got those the last three weeks.”
The Bulls fell behind the Mustangs during the latter stages of the opening half and never recovered. SMU took advantage of numerous fast-break opportunities to turn a 22-16 deficit into a 31-24 lead with a little more than three minutes remaining in the first half.
A 26-6 run bridging both halves enabled the Mustangs to open a 42-28 advantage. The Bulls were able to come within seven points on multiple occasions in the final few minutes, but could not get closer until Collins’ layup accounted for the final margin with three seconds left.
Alexis Yetna led the Bulls with 17 points and 13 rebounds.