Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Florida in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament, Thursday, March 12, 2015, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill
Jessica Hill
March 12, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Daniel Hamilton picked up his award as the American Athletic Conference rookie of the year Thursday afternoon, then lifted UConn to a first-round victory in the conference tournament.

UConn's star freshman scored 20 points, hit six of his eight shots and was 4 of 5 from 3-point range as the defending national champions routed South Florida 69-43 to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Rodney Purvis added 13 points and Ryan Boatright had 12 for the Huskies (18-13), who likely need to win the conference championship to earn an NCAA bid.

Hamilton said he felt a different level of intensity in his first postseason game.

''We just had to come up and step up and make sure we played defense and let it translate to our offense,'' he said. ''We executed real well tonight. I felt the difference.''

UConn held USF scoreless for the game's first six minutes and led 29-14 at the half. The Bulls shot just 24 percent from the floor for the half and 31 percent for the game.

''I think we took good shots, we just missed them,'' said USF guard Anthony Collins, who scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting. ''We let that discourage us on defense and we shouldn't have.''

Nehemias Morillo had 13 points and Troy Holston Jr. had 12 to lead USF, which finished 9-23 under first-year head coach Orlando Antigua.

The Bulls missed their first nine shots from the floor before a tip-in by Ruben Guerrero and it was 17-2 UConn more than 10 1/2 minutes into the game before Holston hit a 3-pointer.

A tick-tack-toe passing play from Boatright to Purvis to Hamilton to Amida Brimah led to dunk that made the score 25-5 UConn.

''I thought our execution was great,'' said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. ''No one really cared who was getting the shots, who was scoring. We was just throwing the ball to the open man and the open man was making plays.''

USF scored nine of the final 14 points of the half, but still trailed by 15.

UConn pushed the lead back to 20 in the second half and were ahead 44-25 before USF put together a 6-0 run. But Boatright and Hamilton hit back-to-back 3-pointers to end any threat.

Last year's national champs had lost two straight to end the regular season while USF had won two of their last five after an 11-game losing streak.

The Huskies improve to 15-2 all-time against USF. UConn beat the Bulls twice in January, by 14 points in Florida and by 13 in the rematch in the XL Center.

South Florida was playing without their two leading scorers. Corey Allen Jr. (15.4 points per game) was suspended last month for receiving impermissible benefits while at a California junior college. Chris Perry (10.8) has not played since Jan. 22 after being diagnosed with a heart issue. The Bulls had just nine scholarship players on the bench.

But UConn was also short-handed, playing without 6-foot-9 forward Kentan Facey, who suffered a concussion in practice on Tuesday. Facey had been averaging 4.5 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. Phil Nolan stepped up, grabbing seven boards for the Huskies. He had been averaging under two a game.

Reserve guard Sam Cassell Jr. missed his 13th consecutive game with a stress fracture in his right leg.

This was the sixth time that Boatright, Purvis and Hamilton scored 10 or more points in the same game. The Huskies are 6-0 in those games.

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TIP-INS

UConn: The Huskies have played 334 games in the XL Center, where their record is now 247-87. They are now 7-1 in the building this season.

UConn has a history of impressive postseason runs. They were the No. 9 seed in Big East tournament 2011 when Kemba Walker led them to five wins in five nights for the conference title, and then six more wins and a national championship. Last season they were the fourth seed in the American, falling to Louisville in the finals before sweeping through the NCAA tourney.

South Florida: The Bulls previous scoring low was 44 points in a Jan. 6 loss to UConn. They had been averaging 62 points a game with Corey Allen Jr. and Chris Perry, but had pushed that to 64 points since they lost their two leading scorers. Freshman Troy Holson Jr. picked up most of the scoring load, scoring 7.8 points overall, but 20.7 without the team's top scorers.

UP NEXT

UConn plays No. 3-seed Cincinnati (22-9) in Friday's quarterfinals

USF's season is over.

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