MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Memphis coach Josh Pastner did not know until several hours before tipoff whether Austin Nichols, his team's leading scorer and one of the nation's top shot-blockers, would play.
Nichols, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, had missed the previous two games with a sprained ankle, but returned to help the Tigers beat defending national champion UConn, 75-72, Thursday.
While point guard Kedran Johnson scored a season-high 21 points to lead the Tigers, Nichols contributed 16 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots in 38 minutes.
Nichols, who was injured in Memphis' Feb. 7 home loss to Temple, scored 13 of his points in the opening half.
''I didn't think I would start clicking again that fast,'' Nichols said of his first-half performance.
He was only 1-of-10 shooting in the second half - missing several short hooks in the lane - but played all 20 minutes and picked up five rebounds and four blocks.
''I'm proud of Austin, it was a nice addition to have him,'' Pastner said. ''He hadn't done anything for two weeks and plays 38 minutes. He toughed it up and went in there and did his job.''
Johnson said Nichols' return provided a huge boost.
''You can't replace a guy like that,'' Johnson said.
Johnson, the former Vanderbilt player, added six assists and had only one turnover. Memphis (16-10, 8-5 American) was outrebounded 41-27 and had to survive a late Huskies' rally from 15 points down early in the second half.
UConn trimmed the Tigers' lead to 72-70 with 19.4 seconds left after Amida Brimah made a pair from the line. But Johnson dropped in two free throws two seconds later and Crawford split a pair of free throws with 8.4 seconds to go.
Daniel Hamilton missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Hamilton led UConn (14-11, 7-6) with 25 points and 13 rebounds, while Brimah scored 19.
The Tigers shot a torrid 58 percent in the first half to build a 13-point advantage, but UConn fought back and trailed by only six at the break, 39-33.
UConn's Ryan Boatright, the league's leading scorer at 18 points per game, was held to seven points on 2-of-6 shooting.
''I thought we did a good job on a very, very, bigtime player,'' Pastner said.
Memphis made it a priority to limit Boatright's touches.
''They were playing box-and-one (defense) on him, so he was going to take bad shots the whole night (if he'd attempted more),'' said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. ''I didn't want to help (Memphis). They had three guys on Ryan most of the night, so you don't want him forcing shots.''
Boatright had to leave the court midway through the first half after a brief skirmish near the Tigers bench. In the pushing and shoving match, Boatright was struck in the mouth by Brimah, who appeared to hit Boatright with his elbow. Boatright, who was bloodied by the hit, was taken to the locker room, but returned later in the half.
After UConn got two free throws from Brimah for a 6-5 advantage - the Huskies' only lead of the opening half - the Tigers went on a 12-0 run that included three pointers from Johnson and Avery Woodson and four points from Nichols.
Shortly after the Memphis run, Calvin Godfrey dropped in a pair of free throws for a 21-8 Tiger lead. But the Tigers' 2-3 zone allowed the Huskies to dominate on the boards and UConn trimmed what was a 13-point deficit to five on a Rodney Purvis jumper with 2:25 remaining in the half. UConn outrebounded the Tigers, 19-9, in the first half.
UConn, the second-best 3-point shooting team in the AAC, went 1 of 9 from beyond the arc in the first half and finished 5 of 20.
Memphis: Against defending NCAA champs, the Tigers are 8-3, including 5-0 at home. ...Memphis improved its homecourt record to 189-25 at FedExForum since 2004-05. The 189 homecourt wins during that span leads all NCAA Division 1 programs. ...UConn outrebounded Memphis by 14, the second-largest rebound margin for a Tiger opponent.
UConn: The Huskies are 14-15 in road games under Kevin Ollie. ...UConn senior Ryan Boatright, entering Thursday's Memphis game, was 33 of 66 from 3-point range in his previous eight games and averaging 21.5 points during the stretch. He was 1 of 4 from 3-point range in the game.
Memphis: Sunday at Central Florida.
UConn: Sunday vs. Tulane.