USF gets second straight win, beating UConn 65-51
TAMPA -- After getting just one win in a span of two months, USF is closing out its time in the Big East with momentum, as the Bulls got their second home win in four days, pulling away from Connecticut with a 65-51 victory Wednesday night in the Sun Dome.
USF (12-17, 3-14 in Big East) led by just two at halftime, but got a second-half spark from guard Martino Brock and highlight-reel dunks from forward Victor Rudd. Up just 39-36, the Bulls went on a 10-0 run and cruised from there, avenging an overtime loss in their first meeting.
"Finishing strong is what we want to do, and building on that momentum," coach Stan Heath said after playing to an announced crowd of 5,198. "We're getting good play from a lot of different guys. Obviously Anthony Collins stirs the drink, but Brock played his second game in a row at the highest level he's been playing at all year long."
The win clinched USF a spot in the 12th-seed-vs.-13th-seed opener against Seton Hall on Tuesday night at the Big East tournament in New York, with DePaul locking up the bottom seed in the field. The Bulls still play Saturday at Cincinnati to close out the regular season.
UConn (19-10, 9-8) played without its top scorer, guard Shabazz Napier, due to a foot injury, but the Huskies actually led early in the second half, 32-28. It was Brock who scored the next four points, providing a spark with quick moves in transition and finishing with a team-best 18 points. Rudd, who opened the game 2-for-9 from the field, finished 7-for-18 for 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Rudd said the team was "very motivated" by the first game with UConn, which saw the Bulls lose a 12-point halftime lead in an overtime loss in Storrs.
"We felt like we should have won that game. We handed it away," said Rudd, who helped the Bulls to a 38-36 rebounding advantage.
USF had just ended a 10-game win streak Sunday with a home win against DePaul, and the Bulls had much of the same energy Wednesday night, playing well on both ends of the court in the second half. Point guard Anthony Collins had 12 assists, able to penetrate and find open teammates.
The Bulls had jumped out to a 9-2 lead, getting a 3-pointer from Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and two drives by Collins, and they stayed in control most of the first half, leading 25-19 with 6:45 left in the half.
From there, the Bulls hit a lull, going 1-for-7 the rest of the half and missing opportunities at the free-throw line. So USF went into halftime with just a 28-26 halftime lead.
UConn played without its all-around leader, Napier, who ranks among the Big East's top six in scoring, assists, steals and 3-point accuracy. In his place, UConn struggled, with Omar Calhoun going 1-for-14 and Ryan Boatright 3-for-13; forward DeAndre Daniels finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
"I knew we were still facing a good team without Shabazz, a team capable of winning if we didn't play well," Heath said. "I thought our guys did a good job of not letting their guard down."
The Bulls close the regular season Saturday afternoon at Cincinnati, then go directly to New York for the Big East tournament, where they'll open play Tuesday night against Seton Hall, which has dropped 10 of 11.