Jeremy Lamb led all scorers with 23 points and helped the ninth-ranked Connecticut Huskies get the little bit of separation they needed to fight off the South Florida Bulls 60-57 on Wednesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The Huskies were off kilter for most of the evening. Jim Calhoun missed the game as part of his three-game suspension that resulted from an NCAA investigation over the summer. Longtime assistant George Blaney coached the team, but failed to get the starting lineup to the official scorer on time, resulting in a technical foul and free throws for USF before the game even started. After that, UConn was uncharacteristically sloppy and got sucked into the Bulls' plan to slow the game to a crawl. USF jumped out to an early 12-4 lead, but the Huskies (11-1, 1-0 Big East) adjusted and hit shots against the Bulls zone to narrow the gap. When Roscoe Smith made two free throws with eight seconds left in the first half, UConn had their first lead at 30-28.
In the second half, UConn got numerous second chances for themselves, collecting 12 of their 14 offensive rebounds through the efforts of Andre Drummond and Tyler Olander. The Huskies opened up a 44-38 lead midway through the second half, and although the Bulls cut the margin back down to a single point and twice had chances to take the lead, both possessions ended in turnovers. Lamb's stepback jumper, one of several NBA-worthy shots he made in the game, gave UConn a 54-47 lead and sealed the deal with 1:25 to play.
No other UConn players finished in double figures, but Ryan Boatright had nine points on 4-for-6 shooting, and Olander had six points and six rebounds. For USF (7-7, 0-1 Big East), Toarlyn Fitzpatrick made four 3-pointers as part of a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Augustus Gilchrist scored 12, and Jawanza Poland had nine points off the bench. Freshman point guard Anthony Collins also played well, with six assists, five steals, and no turnovers.
The Bulls ring in 2012 with a visit from the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Tipoff is at noon on Sunday, January 1, from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.