MEMPHIS - After UConn shot 0-for-15 in the previous meeting with USF on Mar. 3, the Huskies made nine three-pointers in the first half, an American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament record, en route to a 80-73 beating of the Bulls in the first round in the 2019 AAC Tournament.
USF jumped out to a 10-7 lead to start thanks to a couple of three’s from David Collins and Laquincy Rideau, who was back in the starting lineup for the first time since that game on Mar. 3. He led USF with 19 points, including 13 on 5-of-9 shooting in the first half.
That performance made him the seventh different player to lead USF in scoring in the Bulls’ seven games in the AAC tournament.
“I thought he was better,” Gregory said. “You could see out there that he wasn’t 100 percent, the rest definitely helped them, but because of that out-of-rhythm, we’re not able to play defensively like we did before he got hurt.”
Antun Mariceveic put in a right-handed floater with 12:05 in the first half to give the Bulls a 16-13 lead.
It was the last time USF would lead.
Sparked by three straight from beyond the arc, UConn exploded for a 19-1 run that gave the Huskies a 37-19 edge with four minutes to play in the first half. Christian Vital went 4-for-4 in that time, as USF just couldn’t get back out to the three point line to defend the hot shooting from UConn.
The ninth-seeded squad finished 13-for-24 on the evening, quite the turnaround from the previous game in Storrs.
“They’re a good shooting team,” Gregory said. “I thought defensively, we were very, very good in Storrs - they missed some open shots, so we had them off rhythm a little bit [in that game].
The Huskies took a 39-26 lead into the half, which doomed USF.
“Their transition really put us in a bind, we were on our heels in transition, which set the tone for the first half,” Gregory said.
UConn led by as much as 18 in the second half, before the Bulls started a bit of a comeback. Mayan Kiir converted a traditional three-point play and made another pair of free throw to cut it to 13 with 5:49 to play.
Alexis Yetna came out of the woodwork with a three of his own to get the deficit back to seven in the midst of an 8-0 run, forcing a UConn timeout with 2:03 to play. Rideau made a three with 34 ticks left but the Huskies just continued to make enough free throws down the stretch to take the victory.
“As our guys have done all year, they continued to fight during the whole game, we just couldn’t make enough baskets to cut into that lead earlier,” Gregory said.
USF has lost in the first round of the AAC tournament for the third consecutive season.
“Obviously we’re disappointed right now,” Gregory said. “But, the future is bright. We just live in a ‘now’ society, and we wanted more now.”
Three Huskies finished in double-digits - Vital (25), Jalen Adams (19) and Tarin Smith (14). Rideau, Collins, Michael Durr, and Kiir had double-digit scoring for USF.