South Florida comes up short against No. 9 UConn
TAMPA, Fla.—South Florida came up short again against Connecticut.
Jeremy Lamb scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half, the ninth-ranked Huskies hold off South Florida 60-57 on Wednesday night in their Big East opener without suspended coach Jim Calhoun.
Despite playing UConn tough since moving from Conference USA into the Big East in 2005, USF has lost nine of 10 meetings against the Huskies, with the only victory coming in the school's on-campus arena in March 2010. With the Sun Dome undergoing renovation, the Bulls are playing their conference home games in the 20,000-seat St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa.
"If our team plays like this, we'll win a lot of games," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "We're not into moral victories, but we're into getting better. I'm seeing us improve, and it's coming. That kind of effort can win, there's probably 10 teams on the schedule I'm sure we can beat playing at that level, so the key is continue to get better."
South Florida dropped a 66-61 overtime contest last Dec. 31 at Connecticut
Lamb led a game-ending surge with a jumper and three free throws over the final 1:46 to help the Huskies (11-1, 1-0) close out their sixth consecutive victory.
"When Lamb's playing like that, that's what a pro looks like," Heath said. "He just made some tough shots and took over (the game)."
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick had 14 points and 12 rebounds for USF (7-7, 0-1), which hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"This was a game that we was really hyped for," Fitzpatrick said. "We really practiced hard and we prepared well, and we thought that we had a pretty good chance this year to beat them. As you saw on the court, we can play with them, but we just didn't finished."
Calhoun did not make the trip to Tampa, remaining behind as he began serving a three-game suspension by the NCAA for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance within the program.
Assistant coach George Blaney, a former head coach at Holy Cross and Seton Hall, is leading the defending national champions during the ban.
"South Florida played really strong," Blaney said. "I thought the second half we played better defense. It was 46-45, and I think we made four straight stops. I thought that was the ballgame."
Lamb made 8 of 11 shots from the field and six of eight free throws. Ryan Boatright added nine points for the Huskies, who overcame a slow start and 44 percent shooting by limiting South Florida to four field goals over the final 12 minutes and 38 percent shooting for the game.
Calhoun will also miss UConn's Dec. 31 home game against St. John's and a Jan. 3 road game against Seton Hall before returning to the bench against Rutgers on Jan. 7. The Huskies improved to 10-9 all-time without the Hall of Fame coach on the bench for an entire game, 21-8 when Calhoun's missed at least a portion of a game.
The Huskies trailed even before the opening tip, with USF's Shaun Noriega's making one of two free throws the Bulls were awarded after the UConn bench was assessed a technical foul for failing to submit its starting lineup on time.
They fought back from an early 12-4 deficit to tie the score twice before Roscoe Smith made two free throws to give the Huskies their first lead with 8 seconds remaining in the first half.
Fitzpatrick helped USF to its promising start, making three 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes. But the 6-foot-8 forward didn't score again until he made two free throws and another long 3-pointer to get the Bulls within 56-51 with 35.2 seconds to go. Shabazz Napier made a free throw and Lamb converted three of four from the foul line to finish the victory.
"He (Heath) told us that we played hard, and we can't be satisfied with just coming close," Fitzpatrick said. "We showed up today to win a ballgame. We can't be satisfied by saying. `Oh, we lost by three to the defending champions.' That's not what we're here to do. We're here to win."