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 finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, six inches taller at 7 feet 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 it at 65.
The Huskies (20-5, 9-3) turned the ball over in the backcourt, giving the Bulls a shot at the win, but Jones' jumper 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. UConn had a timeout available but let the final six seconds play out.
"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 timeout 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 guards Price and Doug Wiggins, who combined for 43 points, had 10 during the Huskies' 11-2 run that put them 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."