Unhappy ending

No. 17 Connecticut 74, USF 73

USF men’s basketball team battled the Connecticut Huskies on Saturday. The teams went into overtime to settle the score.

Freshman guard Dominique Jones hit a layup with six seconds remaining in extra time – putting the Bulls (11-15, 2-11) up by one and sending the crowd of 6,185 at the Sun Dome into a frenzy.

Six seconds proved to be too much time for the Huskies, as junior guard Craig Austrie took the ball the length of the court and scored with just 0.2 seconds remaining in the game, giving Connecticut (20-5, 9-3) a 74-73 overtime win.

“We didn’t necessarily lose that game,” USF coach Stan Heath said. “They basically won that game with some big plays down the stretch.”

Huskies coach Jim Calhoun complimented the Bulls’ effort – even if it was in defeat.

“I would be the first to give incredible credit to South Florida,” Calhoun said. “I don’t have any idea about the past of their team. But the last two games, I’ve seen one in person and one on tape, but they are a very good basketball team.”

As the game progressed, the Bulls began to see big things out of senior center Kentrell Gransberry. Going against 7-foot-3 sophomore center Hasheem Thabeet, Gransberry turned in one of the best statistical games of his career.

Gransberry played 43 minutes, had game-highs in both points (26) and rebounds (15), and set a new career high for blocked shots in a game (6).

“(Gransberry) was a monster tonight,” Heath said. “I came to the game really concerned. I didn’t know what would happen between him and Thabeet. Going at a guy that you think would have a defensive advantage and still being a factor offensively and defensively – he did a hell of a job.”

Both teams played fairly evenly over the course of regulation, with neither able to build a sizeable lead. When the final buzzer sounded, there had been 15 lead changes, and the game had been tied 12 times. No tie was more important than the one that sent the game into overtime.

With the Bulls trailing 65-62 and time winding down, USF junior forward Jesus Verdejo took the game into his hands. With 21 seconds remaining in regulation, Verdejo hit a game-tying three that electrified the Sun Dome crowd.

“During our last time out, I told my teammates that if I get the ball, I’m going to make a shot,” Verdejo said. “When I got the ball and I let it go, I knew it was going to go in.”

A costly Huskies miscue – guard A.J. Price handed the ball to forward Jeff Adrien, who stepped out of bounds – gave the Bulls the ball with 21 seconds remaining. However, Jones’ shot was just short, giving the Huskies the opportunity to come back in overtime.

Despite losing, the Bulls have a lot of positives to take from the game.

“These guys laid it out there today, and certainly played like a winning team,” Heath said. “When you play a team like Connecticut and you beat them on the boards – we beat them in blocked shots – you get more assists, and you outshoot them by just a hair, you think you have a great chance to win. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way.”

“They’re a very good basketball team,” Calhoun said. “They defend, they play hard, and they get right up into you. In my skills, they probably outplayed us.”

One key problem for the Bulls was a lapse in free-throw shooting. One game after shooting 81 percent from the line in a win against Syracuse, the Bulls shot just 58 percent from the charity stripe.

“I thought we got up there and maybe were a little bit rushed,” Heath said. “Free throws sometimes can be contagious. You make a couple, get on a streak and keep going. You miss one or two, you start thinking about (them). I think today, we thought about our miss and didn’t get up there with the same confidence that we normally had. It was probably of all the stats of the game where that was the area where they had the advantage on us.”

The Bulls have five games remaining this season, and are already beginning to build momentum for not only those games – but next season as well.

“It was a heck of a game, and we give all the credit to USF,” Calhoun said. “They forced our hand to two-tenths of a second. For 45 minutes, they really competed.”