Thriller: UConn's Austrie beats Bulls at buzzer
TAMPA – In a game that was tight from start to finish, the Sun Dome went from euphoria to stunned silence in six seconds Saturday afternoon.
USF freshman Dominique Jones hit a putback with six seconds left in overtime, putting the Bulls in position for a second Big East upset in four days, but Connecticut hurried down the court and guard Craig Austrie nailed a runner from the free-throw line with 0.2 seconds left, allowing the No. 17 Huskies to escape with a 74-73 thriller of a win.
“The way our guys laid it out there, they certainly played like a winning team,” coach Stan Heath said. “It’s too bad we didn’t get to experience that kind of victory today. … We made big plays, they made big plays. They had the last possession, and that was a hell of a shot the kid knocked down.”
In a battle of two of the Big East’s best big men, USF’s Kentrell Gransberry had a huge showing, finishing with 26 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet, six inches taller at 7-foot-3, had eight blocks but was held to six points and nine rebounds.
The Bulls (11-15, 2-11) nearly pulled off the upset in regulation, as guard Jesus Verdejo hit a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left to tie the game at 65-65. Connecticut (20-5, 9-3) turned the ball over in the backcourt, giving USF a shot at the win, but Jones’ drive missed in the final seconds.
With two minutes left in overtime, USF led 71-67 with the ball, but UConn clawed back, getting a three-point play from guard A.J. Price with 1:47 left. Down one, Price missed a layup with 38 seconds remaining, but Stanley Robinson got a putback dunk to give the Huskies a 72-71 lead.
Heath called a timeout with 19 seconds left, and Jones kept the ball and drove to the basket, missing but getting his rebound and banking it in. Connecticut had a time out available, but let the final six seconds play out live.
“Craig made the play that we talked about: If it’s late and they make something, we’re coming at you,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. “We’re not going to call a time out, because they won’t be ready.”
USF tried a length-of-the-court pass, but UConn’s Jeff Adrien intercepted it, heaving the ball halfway up the Sun Dome stands as the Huskies danced on the court. Their celebration – the Big East’s hottest team winning its ninth straight game, against the league’s last-place team, days removed from a 10-game losing streak – showed UConn’s respect for the Bulls.
“I give incredible credit to South Florida,” Calhoun said. “I’m not a predictor of the future, but I have to say the Syracuse game, they turned the corner. I have no idea of the past, but over the last two games … they’re a very good basketball team. They defend, they play hard … they get right up into you and play terrific defense. Early, we were taken aback by that, clearly. ... On my scales, they outplayed us.”
A crowd of 6,185 saw a taut game in which neither team led by more than seven points. Speedy Huskies guards A.J. Price and Doug Wiggins, who combined for 43 points, had a key 11-2 run that put UConn up 56-52 with five minutes to play. USF got three free throws and the key 3-pointer in the final two minutes from Verdejo, who had 17 points, one more than Jones.
The Bulls outrebounded the league's No. 2 rebounding team, 44-35, and outblocked the league's top blocking team 12-11 -- only once in the past 32 years have the Bulls blocked more shots in a game. One clutch shot was all that kept them from upsetting a ranked team for the third year in a row.
"We knew all along we could play with them, and we stood with them," Gransberry said. "The guy just hit a tough shot. You can't ask for any more."