HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun reached deep into his defensive playbook to help the fourth-ranked Huskies overcome lightweight South Florida.
Kemba Walker had 24 points and eight rebounds, and Connecticut played zone defense down the stretch to beat South Florida 66-61 in overtime on Friday.
``I can't think of the last time that we went 10 straight minutes in a zone. I really can't,' Calhoun said. ``It could be a decade. I can't even remember, and I don't forget many basketball games. That saved us. Quite frankly it saved us I think in the sense that we extended the two guards in a press mode, got a couple steals out of it and then went back and packed in.'
The Huskies (11-1, 1-1 Big East), coming off their first loss of the season to No. 6 Pittsburgh, avoided losing two straight despite shooting 37.5 percent from the field and trailing throughout the game. South Florida shot 41.8 percent.
Tied at 58 at the end of regulation, UConn outscored South Florida 8-3 in the 5-minute overtime and held the Bulls (6-9, 0-2) scoreless until Anthony Crater hit a 3-pointer as time expired.
UConn scored 21 points off turnovers. Another factor was free throws. The Huskies were 22 of 26 from the line.
``We didn't play that well,' Calhoun said. ``We were able to force 16 turnovers, which might be the difference.'
Walker made 7 of 18 shots from the field, none bigger than a leaner in the lane that gave UConn a 62-58 lead with 1:24 left.
Alex Oriahki scored 15 points for UConn.
Augustus Gilchrist had 21 points and Crater, who was 4 of 5 from 3-point range, added 14 for the Bulls, who have lost six of seven.
Crater hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left in regulation to tie it after Walker's jumper had given the Huskies a 58-55 lead.
Connecticut ran the clock down for a final shot in regulation and Shabazz Napier missed a short jumper at the buzzer to force the overtime.
South Florida led 46-37 with 11 minutes remaining, but UConn scored the next six points. The Huskies took their first lead of the second half on a layup by Napier that made it 56-55 with 2:33 left.
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Roscoe Smith both made two free throws in the final minute to clinch UConn's first Big East victory.
``We had a really good game plan to defend them,' South Florida coach Stan Heath said. ``I thought we'd build a wall and had 10 eyes looking at Kemba when he had the ball, and when he got by somebody we had somebody else pick him up. We tried to make him a little bit more of a passer. We took a little bit of a page from Pitt, but I thought our guys responded and reacted pretty good.'
The Huskies offset the poor shooting effort from the field (21 of 56) by making 22 of 26 free throws
With upcoming road games against No. 15 Notre Dame and No. 13 Texas, it was important the Huskies bounced back against South Florida, which has the worst overall record in the Big East.
UConn played a zone defense most of the second half, forcing South Florida into a half-court offense.
The teams were tied 28-28 at halftime as South Florida shot 40.7 percent and UConn 39.1 percent.
UConn made its first four shots to take an 8-0 lead, then went more than 6 minutes without a field goal.
Crater's layup on a backdoor play gave South Florida a 26-19 lead with 3:11 remaining, but UConn closed the half with a 9-2 run.
``I'm proud of my team,' Heath said. ``We've been on a little bit of a skid. At the same time we continue to battle, we continue to fight. To come into a place like this on New Year's Even and battle toe-to-toe with a top-ranked team, I think our guys should feel like, 'Hey, we're not too far out of the woods from being a team that can win games.''
The Associated Press News Service
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