STORRS, Conn. — UConn guard Christian Vital believes the experience of losing a lot of close games this season helped the Huskies get a win Sunday.
Vital scored 24 points and freshman James Bouknight had 16 of his 19 points in the second half to lead Connecticut past USF 78-71.
Justin Brown scored 22 points and David Collins 18 to lead USF (11-16, 4-10 American Athletic), which has lost four straight.
“We fought and battled for the second game on the road,” USF coach Brian Gregory said. “We just didn’t get the stops you need to get on the road in those critical situations.”
Jalen Gaffney and Brendan Adams each added 10 points for Connecticut (15-12, 6-8), which has lost 10 games this season by single digits, including Thursday’s double-overtime setback at Temple.
“We know that the teams we lost to, we should have beat them,” Vital said. “So now, it’s like, we’ve been in this position before, so lets just finish it now.”
The Huskies led by as many as 11 points in the first half and by six points at halftime.
But Bouknight and center Josh Carlton each picked up their third fouls early in the second half and USF hit its first five shots after intermission.
A 3-pointer by Laquincy Rideau tied the score at 38, and a 3-pointer by Madut Akec gave the Bulls their only lead of the second half at 47-46.
A tomahawk dunk from Vital highlighted an 8-2 run that put the Huskies back up 59-53.
But three minutes later, a pair of free throws from David Collins cut UConn’s lead to 65-62.
Vital and Bouknight took over from there.
A step-back 3-pointer from Vital, which sent a defender sprawling, started an 8-0 run that clinched the game. He and Bouknight accounted for 12 of the Huskies’ final 13 points.
“Me and him, when we go out there, we’ve just got to be the dynamic duo type,” Bouknight said. “When I came back in the second half, he said it was a little harder without me.”
The Bulls’ visits to Connecticut have not gone well. USF is 0-11 the road against UConn and 4-23 all time against the Huskies.
UConn is leaving the conference at the end of the season to return to the Big East.
Vital’s four 3-pointers gave him 253 for his career, an American Athletic Conference record.
“I know I got a lot more work to do, but that’s definitely a nice accomplishment,” the senior said. “I’ll take that.”
The Bulls head home to host East Carolina on Wednesday.