The No. 22 Huskies toyed with the Knights for 10 minutes then
spurted away to what eventually would be a relatively easy 75-55
victory over Central Florida.
Connecticut (18-5, 6-4 American Athletic Conference) put five
players in double figures and played lock-down defense whenever UCF
attempted to rally. Guard Shabazz Napier and forward Lasan Kromah
led the way with 17 points and seven rebounds apiece, but it was the
Huskies' first-half defense that carried the day.
"Defense and rebounding," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "We
rebounded and then we got out on the break and Lasan (Kromah) was
terrific. He was all over the place. I think he got four steals and
then he was making amazing layups. Everybody was just so unselfish."
UConn limited UCF to 34.6 percent shooting and outscored the Knights
24-6 in the final 10 minutes of the first half to take a 41-24
"Just playing basketball the way it was meant to be played," Napier
said. "Our game is defense and running and that's what we did. We
went out and had some fun."
Guard Isaiah Sykes scored 17 points for the Knights (9-12, 1-9), who
have lost eight consecutive games.
But the UCF player who showed the most promise was 6-foot-10 center
Justin McBride, who checked into the game with UCF trailing 47-29.
The 310-pound freshman sat out the first 15 games while recovering
from a knee injury. He has seen limited playing time in the last six
games, so this was practically his debut for the home crowd.
He made it memorable, instantly bullying inside for a layup to
ignite a 20-11 run by UCF, its best stretch of the game. McBride had
11 points during the run, using his considerable girth to bully
Connecticut's big men around the basket.
He scored five straight in one stretch, then stepped aside and let
forward Kasey Wilson drill a 3-pointer that pulled UCF within 57-49
with 7:20 left in the game.
"You're always looking to grab on to any bright moments you can and
Justin was a bright spot," UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "Our guys
have confidence in him. They've seen him do this in practice. Now
the big thing is conditioning and learning the game."
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McBride, who finished the game with 13 points and three rebounds in
13 minutes, didn't argue any of that.
"I got gassed, real gassed," McBride said. "I thank Coach (Jones)
for not putting me in prematurely, but my next hurdle is the
conditioning, getting in better shape so I can play longer. This is
just one step in the process."
The Huskies seemed to wake up after McBride helped the Knights close
the gap to eight points.
Forward Phillip Nolan hit a follow shot, Napier had a steal and
breakaway layup, then was fouled after another steal and sank two
The surge pushed the lead to 63-49, and UCF never got closer the
rest of the game.
It didn't take Connecticut long to find a weakness in the UCF
Nolan had a dunk, a layup and a jump hook on three straight
possessions early in the game to expose the Knights' interior
UConn forward DeAndre Daniels followed with three more baskets from
in close, but the Huskies still trailed 18-17 after UCF guard Matt
Williams' 3-pointer with 10:08 left in the first half.
Sykes hit four of his first six shots and had 10 points before the
Huskies adjusted. UConn surrounded Sykes with two or three defenders
when he got near the lane, and he did not score in the final 10:49
of the half.
NOTES: Connecticut is on pace to set school records for 3-pointers
attempted (18.5 per game) and made (7.5). ... UCF is shooting 60
percent from the free-throw line, which is last in the American
Athletic Conference. The Knights made 8-of-16 foul shots Sunday. ...
Before Sunday, opponents were shooting 48.8 percent against UCF in
conference games. The Knights were shooting only 39.1 percent in AAC
games. UCF made 39.2 percent from the floor against Connecticut, which shot 47.6 percent.
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