MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — UConn's success in March continued in the opening round of the American Athletic Conference tournament thanks to accurate first-half shooting that spread into the early stages of the second.
The shooting that hovered above 63 percent with eight minutes left in the game, provided enough of a buffer for UConn to withstand a late run by South Florida, allowing the Huskies to hold on for an 80-73 victory on Thursday.
"(The Huskies) run and their transition offense really put us in a bind," USF coach Brian Gregory said. "We were on our heels in transition."
Christian Vital scored 25 points to lead UConn, while Jalen Adams, who missed seven games in February with a sprained MCL, added 19 points and six rebounds. UConn (16-16) moves on to Friday's quarterfinal game against 11th-ranked and top-seeded Houston.
"I really like the way we guarded," UConn coach Dan Hurley said. "Really like the way we played the game completely, especially the first 35 minutes. We were in complete control of the game."
The Huskies shot 66.7 percent from the field in the first half to set a new conference record for shooting percentage in a half. UConn's shooting was so accurate, it was still at 70.4 percent (19 of 27) with 15 minutes left in the game, including 10 of 16 from outside the arc.
And Adams missed six of the eight shots where the Huskies misfired.
"It was just a great feeling," Adams said of UConn's accurate shooting, ".especially when it is just do-or-die, and you see everything going in the hoop like that. It's just a great feeling, and you build so much confidence."
Laquincy Rideau led the Bulls (19-13) with 19 points, while David Collins finished with 15 points as USF lost its seventh in the last nine.
What seemed like an insurmountable UConn lead in the second half was jeopardized a bit down the stretch as the Bulls scored eight straight points to pull within 70-63 with two minutes left. Over that span, the Huskies made only one of 10 shots, allowing the Bulls to threaten.
USF pulled within 73-68 on a 3-pointer from Collins with 34.4 seconds left but could get no closer.
"I thought in the second half, we played a lot better," Gregory said. "Just couldn't that lead under 10 until the last four minutes."
The Huskies, who endured a six-game losing streak in February — all of it with Adams, UConn's leading scorer on the shelf — have now won three of four.
"To get Jalen (Adams) back, you can obviously see the way offensively things have changed," Hurley said. "He gets so much attention, and he makes the right play so often."
UConn: The Huskies shooting percentage was such that they made two-thirds of their shots in the first half, and that was only slightly better that their 3-point shooting, which was 64.3 percent at the break (9 of 14).
USF: The Bulls woes at the end of the season continued in the first half as UConn blew the game open. It was more than a matter of USF not able to keep pace with the opponent's shooting accuracy, but also stymied by going 3 of 10 from outside the arc in the first half. The double-digit deficit was just too much for the Bulls to overcome as they made their run in the closing minutes.
UConn: Moves on to the quarterfinals to face top-seeded and No. 11 Houston on Friday
South Florida: Leaves the tournament with a 19-13 record and waits to see if there is a postseason opportunity in the NIT.