TAMPA -- The University of South Florida basketball team saw what it wanted to be. For more than a few minutes, it played that way.
The distance between the Bulls and the Oklahoma State Cowboys is still about as long as it takes to get from Tampa to Stillwater, Okla., whether traveling by foot, car or covered wagon.
But USF showed it's reachable, and that is the best thing the Bulls took out of their 93-67 loss to unbeaten OSU Monday might.
There is still a long way to go, but USF head coach Stan Heath certainly wasn't disappointed with the play of his two big freshmen, 6-10 John Egbunu and 6-8 Chris Perry.
OSU came into the Sun Dome ranked fifth in the AP national poll and among the top-five teams in high-flying aerial acts. It was coming off a 101-80 win over 11th-ranked Memphis.
The Cowboys began the week as the second-highest scoring team in the country, putting up 102 points per game and beating opponents by average margin of nearly 41 points per game. They own the real estate above the rim and spend a lot of time up there proving it.
They have Marcus Smart, who would among the top-five picks in the NBA draft if it were held today.
The 6-5 sophomore guard put an exclamation point on his 23-point torching of the Bulls in the first half when he hit a shot from
beyond the midcourt line just before the buzzer.
This USF basketball team (4-1) has the potential to be the best in school history. It still puts the Bulls a couple of arms lengths behind OSU (5-0), but it left Heath with a lot of things to feel good about.
"John and Chris did a nice job and became a factor inside. We have to use them more and force teams to play against them," Heath said. "They should get the ball more, and we will make an effort to do that. The more John (15 points, eight rebounds) plays, he will get better. They both have to improve on multiple effort plays. We have to get those guys better at that."
The Bulls also got a solid game from senior wingman Victor Rudd (14 points). Guard Corey Allen, who came into the game the Bulls leading scorer (16.5 ppg), finished with seven points. Perry had 10 points and four rebounds in only 17 minutes.
There is no team in the American Athletic Conference not named Louisville that can match OSU's talent, and the Bulls pointed that out after the game. There was electricity in the building. The crowd was energized by OSU's ranking and the way the Bulls hung in there for longer than some might have expected.
The Cowboys dominated the inside and caused havoc and with their defense to pull away. OSU scored 16 points off turnovers in the first half to none for USF and outscored the Bulls 44-32 in the paint, including 24-14 in the first half. The Cowboys came up with 11 steals and forced 16 turnovers. They forced six turnovers from USF's usually reliable point guard Anthony Collins.
"Anthony doesn't normally have a six turnover game, but they have active hands and react real quick," Heath said. "You have to make extra passes, and we didn't. What hurt us the most is that we played too much one-on-one and did not move the ball side to side enough."
While USF focused on Smart, the Cowboys got a monster game out of his backcourt mate Markel Brown, who had 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Smart finished with 25 points and had four assists and four steals.
"In Marcus, you are watching an NBA guard out there. I don't know why he didn't go to the draft last year, but they are more than a one-man team," Heath said. "We are a work in progress, but we can build from this game. I like our team a lot. We learned we cannot do it individually. We have to trust in the system and improve our rebounding."