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UConn enjoys a laugher against USF in AAC opener, Cincy up next

POSTED March 13, 2015
BY Patrick Tiscia
Twitter: @PatrickTiscia

HARTFORD – The play was executed to perfection. On the fast-break, Ryan Boatright threw the outlet pass to Rodney Purvis, who then fed Daniel Hamilton. Unselfishly, Hamilton dished to the trailing Amida Brimah, who threw down a two-handed dunk with authority.

South Florida called timeout, Brimah high-stepped to the huddle in celebration, and the rout was on.

The slam gave UConn a 25-5 lead and the Huskies went on to crush USF, 69-43, in the first round of the AAC Tournament before a small gathering of 5,431 at the XL Center.

Sixth-seeded UConn, which will face No. 3 Cincinnati late Friday night, has no room for error, needing to sweep this tournament to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Its sense of urgency was apparent from the start, as the Huskies smothered the last place Bulls into missing their first nine shots. UConn jumped out to a 12-2 cushion in the process and cruised from there.

"I thought our guys came out with intensity, we stayed connected, we played hard on the defensive end and we wanted to establish that the first five minutes. I thought they did a great job," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "We've just got to continue it now. It's a short turnaround and we know that."

Brimah’s dunk showcased an issue UConn has had all season: precise ball movement. After the play, its bench erupted, along with the crowd. If the Huskies are to advance, that type of unselfish play and execution is vital.

"When we play like this, we have a lot of fun," Brimah said after scoring nine points and blocking five shots. "We need to play together. D-Ham could’ve scored on that if he wanted to, but instead he passed it to me. That extra pass is what makes the game beautiful."

"That felt great,” added Purvis. "The main thing for us was sharing the ball.”

The Huskies had one of their more balanced attacks of the season, with Hamilton, after being named the AAC Rookie of the Year earlier in the day, scoring a team-high 20 points, including four three-pointers. Purvis had 13 points and Boatright 12, with each hitting three three-pointers.

UConn (18-13) made 11-of-17 from three and shot 54.4 percent from the field.

"Any time we’re making threes, we’re a tough team to guard,” Purvis said. "With Daniel being a matchup problem, Boatright being hard to keep in front of, and I can penetrate as well – it’s going to be tough for any team (to guard us).”

Ollie was particularly encouraged, especially after losing to Memphis and Temple in the final two regular season games.

"I thought our execution offensively was great,” he said. "No one really cared about who was getting the shots, who was scoring, we were just throwing it to the open man, and the open man was making plays, and that's how we're going to have to play the rest of the way."

The Bulls shot a horrid 31 percent and finish the season 9-23. In the past 13 months, they’ve made three trips to Hartford and been outscored by UConn, 218-136.

The Huskies, though, have no time to enjoy those numbers. Up next is a physical Cincinnati team coming off a bye in the first round. The teams split their regular season matchups, with the home squad winning each time.

On Jan. 10 at the XL Center, UConn prevailed, 62-56, with Boatright scoring 18 points, followed by Purvis with 11. Nineteen days later, the Bearcats returned the favor with a 70-58 triumph, as the Huskies only made 19 of 58 shots.

Games with Cincinnati are usually the rugged type. Don’t expect a high-scoring offensive show.

"It's tournament play, so we don't go back, and get off our legs," Ollie said. "We have to get ready for Cincinnati and everybody knows when we play Cincinnati, it's a dog fight and we've got to come out and play with intensity and play hard."

Boatright is a veteran of these games, going back to UConn's and Cincinnati's days as rivals in the Big East. He knows what to expect, also referencing a dog fight.

"I’ve played them a lot of times and every single time that we play them, it's extremely physical and it's going to be a close game," UConn’s senior captain said. "It's going to come down to whoever wants to win the most, and it's going to be a dog fight. They’re probably going to play their match-up zone, so we've got to execute and break that zone down."

Round one was fairly easy for the Huskies. From here on out, it will only get harder.

Starting Friday night against the Bearcats.

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