TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -Dominique Jones scored 20 points and South Florida held off struggling Connecticut 75-68 Saturday to remain in contention for the Bulls' first berth in the NCAA tournament in 18 years.
Chris Howard and Mike Mercer went 7-for-8 from the foul line in the final 1:04, helping USF (19-11, 9-9 Big East) stay in front after Connecticut (17-14, 7-11) methodically climbed back into the game after falling behind by 14 midway through the second half.
UConn closed the regular season with a three-game losing streak that means the Huskies, who began their comeback after coach Jim Calhoun emptied his bench with 16 minutes left, may have to win next week's Big East tournament to get back to the NCAAs.
Kemba Walker led Connecticut with 18 points, and Alex Oriakhi's rebound dunk trimmed the Huskies' deficit to 70-68 with 36 seconds left.
USF, which has won three straight following a tough stretch in which it lost four of five to damage its NCAA hopes, clinched the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament. The Bulls will face last-place DePaul in the opening round.
Augustus Gilchrist scored 17 points, Mercer added 12 and Howard finished with 11, including three free throws that settled USF after Connecticut pulled within two. Mercer added a pair of free throws to end any chance for a collapse in the closing seconds.
The Bulls, who will finish with a winning record for the first time since going 15-14 during the 2002-03 season, last made the NCAA tournament in 1992. The Bulls haven't played in the NIT since 2002, so even a berth in that field would be a significant step forward.
UConn trailed 33-31 at the half, and Calhoun pulled his regulars - including Walker and leading scorers Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson - after South Florida opened the second half with a 12-1 spurt that put the Bulls up 45-32 with 16:04 to go.
With three freshmen - Oriakhi, Darius Smith, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel - and juniors Donnell Beverly and Charles Okwandu on the floor, the Huskies responded and began to whittle away at the deficit.
UConn pulled with four five times before Oriakhi's dunk off a missed layup got the Huskies within 70-68. Walker scored 11 during the rally, but missed his last three shots and Beverly committed a key turnover down the stretch.
Beverly finished with eight points. Robinson finished with six points for the second straight game, and Dyson had four - 18 below his team-leading average - on 2-for-6 shooting in 22 minutes.
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