TAMPA — After getting just one win in a span of two months, USF is closing out its time in the Big East with momentum.
The Bulls got their second home win in four days, pulling away from Connecticut for a 65-51 victory Wednesday night in the Sun Dome.
USF (12-17, 3-14 Big East) led by two at halftime but got a second-half spark from guard Martino Brock and highlight-reel dunks from forward Victor Rudd. Up 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."
USF clinched a spot in the 12th-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. The Huskies led early in the second half, 32-28. Brock then scored the next four, 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, when the Bulls lost a 12-point halftime lead in Storrs.
"We felt like we should have won that game. We handed it away," Rudd said.
USF ended a 10-game skid Sunday at home against DePaul, and the Bulls had much of the same energy Wednesday, playing well at 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 took 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. USF went into halftime with a 28-26 lead.
Without Napier, who ranks among the Big East's top six in scoring, assists, steals and 3-point accuracy, 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."