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    UConn Men's Basketball
    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    UConn can't afford a slip-up on Thursday at USF

    UConn's mission over the final four regular-season games basically boils down to this:

    Win the games that the Huskies are supposed to win and then they'll qualify for the NCAA tournament.

    That means beating struggling South Florida on Thursday (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) at the Sun Dome in Tampa is a must.

    The Bulls (7-21, 4-11) reside in the bottom three of the American Athletic Conference, but have shown some life in recent games. They're attempting to win their straight conference game for the first time since February 2012. East Carolina and Memphis are their previous two victims.

    So far, UConn's resume is devoid of any defeats to bad teams, and that's a good thing. Its only AAC losses have come against with winning records. The Huskies (19-8, 9-5), who sat in fifth place entering Wednesday's action, are 2-5 against teams above them and 7-0 against lower teams.

    The path to victory Thursday will be smoother if the Huskies convert a high percentage of their layups, which they've missed a ton of this season. Coach Kevin Ollie counted 12 failed attempts in Saturday's 65-60 loss at Cincinnati.

    Ollie indicated that a lack of mental toughness and focus contributed to UConn's downfall in the tough road game that followed a resume-building upset of nationally-ranked Southern Methodist on Feb. 18.

    An inconsistent streak has left the Huskies on the NCAA tournament bubble. They own a decent RPI — 39th, according to the NCAA's ranking as of Wednesday. They just need to rack up some more victories.

    By winning three of its last four, UConn would be in a comfortable spot heading into the AAC tournament in Orlando.

    It's definitely doable. After visiting South Florida, UConn hosts Houston Sunday, visits SMU on March 3 and hosts Central Florida on March 6.

    There's still seeding position to play for in the AAC tournament, which runs March 10-13.

    Prior to Wednesday's action, only two games separated the top six teams. The Huskies would require a lot help to overtake either Cincinnati or Temple, which both swept the regular season series from UConn.

    With SMU ineligible for postseason play, UConn has almost locked up a first round bye. The top six seeds begin play in the quarterfinals on March 11.

    Thursday's game pits the conference's preseason rookie of the year (UConn's Jalen Adams) versus one of the leading contenders (Jahmal McMurray), who's averaging a team-best 15.7 points per game. 

    Both guards have played well as of late. Adams is coming off a career-best 19-point performance against Cincinnati while McMurray has averaged 20.5 points in the previous eight games.

    g.keefe@theday.com

    Twitter: @GavinKeefe

    UCONN at SOUTH FLORIDA

    Location: Sun Dome, Tampa, Fla.

    Tip: 7:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

    Records: UConn 19-8, 9-5; South Florida 7-21, 4-11

    Last game: UConn lost at Cincinnati, 65-60, Saturday; USF beat Memphis, 80-71, Saturday

    Probable starters: UConn, 6-2 grad. guard Sterling Gibbs (12.2 pts), 6-6 sr. guard Omar Calhoun (4.4 pts), 6-7 so. forward Daniel Hamilton (11.6 pts, 9 rebs, 5 assists), 6-7 grad. forward Shonn Miller (13.1 pts, 5.5 rebs), 7-0 jr. center Amida Brimah (6.7 pts, 4.4 rebs, 2.6 blks)

    South Florida, 6-0 fr. guard Jahmal McMurray (15.7 pts, 2.6 assists), 6-5 sr. guard Nehemias Morillo (8.8 pts), 6-6 so. forward Bo Zeigler (4.1 pts), 6-11 so. forward Ruben Guerrero (5.2 pts, 5.7 rebs), 6-11 sr. center Jaleel Cousins (8.4 pts, 8.1 rebs)

    Noteworthy: UConn one of four AAC teams with winning road record (5-3). ... USF 4-12 at home, 1-6 in AAC games. ... Series: Huskies lead 15-2, winning last five games including 69-43 in AAC tournament first round action on March 12 in Hartford. Hamilton had 20 pts, Bulls shot 31 percent. ... Top reserve: 6-8 jr. forward Chris Perry (9.8 pts, 6.7 rebs), who had 16 pts vs. Memphis in 2nd game back from a 6-game suspension. ... McMurray, fifth in the AAC in scoring, is a strong AAC rookie of the year candidate. ... Guerrero had 7 blks vs. Memphis. ... Fun fact: USF coach Orlando Antigua, a former Pitt standout, faced Ollie during their playing days nine times from 1991-95, with UConn taking seven. ... Hot: UConn third in nation in FG percentage defense (37.7) and free throw shooting (77.6). Cold: Hamilton shooting 30 percent (14-for-47) in last 4 games. ... Magic number: Huskies 14-2 when scoring at least 70 points. ... Up next: UConn hosts Houston Sunday in Storrs.

    — Gavin Keefe

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