HARTFORD, Conn. — In the end, maybe it was as simple as this: The fourth-ranked UConn men's basketball team finds a way to win these kinds of games, and for now, USF finds a way to lose them.
The Bulls squandered a nine-point second-half lead and fell to the Huskies 66-61 in overtime Friday night at the XL Center. Anthony Crater's 3-pointer with 24.8 seconds left in regulation tied the score at 58, then USF was unable to figure out UConn's zone and scored just one 3-pointer in the extra period.
UConn's Kemba Walker, the nation's leading scorer, scored a game-high 24, including three key jumpers over the final 4½ minutes of regulation and overtime.
The Bulls fell to 6-9 overall and 0-2 in the Big East. More telling, USF is now 3-9 in games decided by 10 points or fewer this season.
"When we had Dominique Jones, it was the opposite," Bulls coach Stan Heath said of the guard who left early for the NBA. "I've got to find a way to get a Kemba Walker on my team that, down the stretch, will show a little leadership, get the ball to the right guys. … It's not easy."
The Bulls led 46-37 after a Jarrid Famous free throw with 10:49 to play. But UConn (11-1, 1-1 Big East) slowly crawled back and finally took the lead on freshman Shabazz Napier's wild bank shot with 3:30 to play.
Walker hit a wing jumper with 1:04 left to put UConn ahead 58-55, but Crater countered with his long 3. Napier's off-balance lane jumper was off the mark in the waning seconds, and it was on to overtime.
The Huskies scored the first eight points in overtime before Crater hit a 3-pointer with a few seconds remaining.
Augustus Gilchrist led USF with 21 points on a variety of 15-footers and inside moves.
"We never really had an answer for Gilchrist," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "He's one of the best big guys in the country. He absolutely was terrific."
With Gilchrist having his way inside, and with two of its big men in foul trouble, UConn reverted to a 2-3 zone with about five minutes left in regulation and in overtime. The Bulls seemed puzzled by the Huskies' zone.
"I don't know why we go freeze-frame and stand around like that," Heath said. "We don't do it in practice. I don't know, maybe they thought (Hasheem) Thabeet (UConn's former 7-foot-3 center) was in there or something."
Crater finished with 14 points off the bench, and Hugh Robertson added 11. Gilchrist hauled in a game-high eight rebounds.
Despite the loss, the Bulls' fourth in a row, Heath found some positives.
"I'm proud of our team," he said. "We've been on a little bit of a skid, but at the same time, we continued to battle, continue to fight.
"To come into a place like this, on New Year's Eve, and to battle toe-to-toe with a top-ranked team, I think our guys should feel like we're not too far out of the woods from being a team that can win games."