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UConn men beat top-seeded Temple 77-62 to reach AAC final

Orlando, Fla. — UConn's timing couldn't be better.

The Huskies are playing an inspired brand of basketball rarely seen from them prior to the American Athletic Conference tournament.

When a double digit lead dipped to six early in the second half of Saturday's semifinal, they simply regained control and pulled away again for an impressive 77-62 victory over top-seeded Temple to earn a third straight trip to the finals.

UConn will face No. 6 Memphis (19-14), a 74-54 winner over No. 10 Tulane, on Sunday at 3:15 p.m. (ESPN) at the Amway Center. Both teams are shooting for their first AAC tournament title. UConn won the two regular season meetings.

It's hard to bet against the fifth-seeded Huskies (23-10) the way they've played in wins over No. 4 Cincinnati and Temple.

"Everybody was tired of losing to Temple," freshman Jalen Adams said. "We played together and got after it. ... The past two games we've been playing really, really hard and really aggressive the whole game. We showed spurts of it throughout the season. But now we're finally getting it and playing a full game.

"Perfect timing."

Perfect timing, indeed.

The tradition-rich UConn program has had a history of rising to the occasion in March. The Huskies are doing it again, shaking the inconsistencies that haunted them during the regular season. They were terrific on both ends of the floor, shooting 51.8 percent and holding Temple to 35.9 percent.

UConn never trailed after seizing the lead in the first half with a sizzling 31-7 spurt.

"They were tough and played with heart, and it was pretty much a great game from our standpoint," coach Kevin Ollie said. "They were focused and determined to get to this championship game. We wouldn't have it any other way. To go through Cincinnati, a team that we lost twice to, and also a great Temple team that we lost twice to."

Sophomore Daniel Hamilton is playing a starring role once occupied by Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker in recent postseason runs. Hamilton finished with team-highs in points (19) and rebounds (11) for the second straight game.

It was far from a one-man effort, as graduate forward Shonn Miller added 19 points and Adams had 11 points and a career-best eight assists while several other players made smaller but important contributions.

Coming off a four-overtime thriller against Cincinnati, fatigue was not a factor at all for UConn. The Huskies still had plenty of physical and emotional energy in their tank.

"When you have that much at stake, you really don't get tired," Adams said.

Trailing 12-4, the energetic Huskies went into attack mode. An Adams 3-pointer kicked off the game-changing 31-7 spurt and a Hamilton put-back finished it off. They shot a sizzling 55.2 percent (16-for-29) before intermission.

UConn's 39-28 halftime lead slipped to six (55-49) with 9:44 remaining.

In past games, holding a late lead has been an issue, including blowing a 12-point second half lead at Temple on Feb. 11.

But not on Saturday, as the determined Huskies remained poised and re-established a double-digit advantage and held off Temple down the stretch. They closed the game with a 15-7 run.

"We stayed more mentally tough, got stops when we needed to, got scores when we needed to," Miller said of the difference between Saturday and the previous two games against Temple. "We stayed together, came out with a lot of energy and got the win."

The victory all but guaranteed that the Huskies won't have to sweat it out during Sunday's NCAA tournament selection show. They're projected to be in the field.

They can seal the deal by earning the AAC's automatic bid.

"It means nothing if we don't win it," Purvis said of reaching the title game. "We're just trying to bring home the championship... That's what we came here for. We didn't come here to win two games just to say we're in the (NCAA) tournament, because that's going to take care of its self. We just try to come here and focus in and win the whole thing."

g.keefe@theday.com


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