TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Craig Austrie didn’t hesitate with the game on the line. He dribbled nearly the length of the court, penetrated the lane and made a 14-foot runner to give No. 17 Connecticut its ninth straight win.
“I knew there were 6 seconds left, and I just wanted to get the ball as I deep as I can in the paint and then pull up and get a shot off,” the junior guard said after the Huskies’ 74-73 overtime victory over South Florida on Saturday.
A.J. Price scored 23 points for the Huskies (20-5, 9-3 Big East), including their first five in the overtime.
South Florida (11-15, 2-11) lost for the 11th time in 12 games after giving itself a chance for an upset when Dominique Jones converted his own miss for a 73-72 lead with 6 seconds left.
“We didn’t necessarily lose that game. They basically won the game with some big plays down the stretch,” USF coach Stan Heath said.
“But the way our guys laid it out there today, they certainly played like a winning team. It’s too bad we didn’t get to experience that kind of victory.”
Austrie, who had two points in the first 37 minutes, took the inbounds pass and hurried up the left side of the court before cutting to the middle and making the game-winner from just inside the foul line with .2 seconds remaining.
He also made UConn’s last two field goals in regulation on short bank shots in heavy traffic.
“You play a team like Connecticut and you beat them on the boards, you beat them in blocked shots, you get more assists, you even outshoot them by just a hair, you think you’ve got a great chance to win,” Heath said.
“Unfortunately, it just didn’t go that way. We made big plays and they made big plays. They had the last possession. … That was a heck of a shot the kid knocked down.”
Reserve guard Doug Wiggins scored 20 points for UConn and Jeff Adrien added 12. The Huskies finished with 11 blocked shots, eight by 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, who also grabbed nine rebounds.
Kentrell Gransbury had 26 points, 15 rebounds and six of USF’s 12 blocked shots. Jesus Verdejo added 17 points, including a 3-pointer that forced overtime, while Jones finished with 16 points after scoring 29 in the Bulls’ victory over Syracuse last Wednesday.
Taking up where it left off in a rare conference win, USF led much of the first half until Wiggins’ reverse layup gave UConn a 27-26 halftime lead. He scored eight points in the Huskies’ 13-5 run over the last 7 minutes, helping his team stay close despite a 4-minute field goal drought to start the game.
A lack of depth has haunted the Bulls all season, but this time they didn’t wilt when it looked like UConn might take control of the game. An 18-8 run turned a 37-32 deficit into a 50-45 lead before the Huskies regrouped.
Price’s 3-pointer and Wiggins’ layup tied it, and UConn led 65-62 before Verdejo’s contested 3-pointer tied it with 21 seconds left in regulation. A Connecticut turnover on the inbounds pass gave USF a chance to win it, but Jones misfired from just inside the 3-point line.
Gransberry, Verdejo and Jones scored in the opening minutes of overtime, opening a 71-67 lead. Price’s three-point play and Stanley Robinson’s rebound dunk put the Huskies ahead 72-71, setting the stage for the two lead changes in the closing seconds.
USF has lost 39 of 45 conference games since entering the Big East three years ago.
“They played a great game. I don’t know why they’re at the bottom of the pack,” Austrie said.
“They outplayed us probably. I think they gave more effort,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “That shows up … in many, many ways. But we’ll go home with a win. We’re not turning it back in because, quite frankly, we’ve outplayed other teams before and got beat.”