Hamilton, Miller led UConn past Temple in AAC semifinal
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Once again, the Connecticut Huskies seem to be peaking at the right time.
Kevin Ollie's team stormed into the final of the American Athletic Conference tournament with a 77-62 victory over regular-season champion Temple on Saturday, strengthening its resume for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Two wins in this week's league tourney may already be enough to land an at-large berth, but Ollie and his players don't want to leave anything to chance on Sunday, when the American's automatic berth will be on the line.
After a season filled with peaks and valleys, UConn (23-10) appears to have saved its best for March.
''I'm always positive because I know these days are going to build us if we just stay together. And I think everybody is witnessing that,'' Ollie said. ''But we still got one more game left. We have been in the championship the last two years (and lost). Hopefully third time is the charm like everybody says.''
Daniel Hamilton and Shonn Miller scored 19 points and the Huskies showed no signs of fatigue after needing four overtimes to win the longest game in league history in the quarterfinals, building a 16-point lead in the first half and weathering a couple of Temple surges before pulling away for good.
''They came out and played with resiliency. They were tough and played with heart, and it was pretty much a great game from our standpoint,'' Ollie said.
To make the final, the Huskies had to beat two teams that had beaten them twice apiece this season.
''They were focused and determined,'' Ollie said. ''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.''
Jalen Adams, whose shot from beyond mid-court forced a fourth OT against Cincinnati on Friday, had 11 points.
Jaylen Bond led Temple (21-11) with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but the conference regular-season champs shot just under 36 percent from the field, missed 10 free throws and finished 4 of 20 on 3-point attempts.
''It's hard to beat a team three times,'' Bond said.
The Huskies outscored the Owls 31-7 over an 11-minute stretch of the opening half to climb out of a 12-4 hole and surge to a 35-19 lead. Temple, limited to 28 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes, settled over the final three minutes and scored the last five points before the break to trail 39-28 at halftime.
''They made shots when they needed to. Their defense was very good when it had to be,'' Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. ''We started off well, and then we struggled a little bit in that middle facet of the first half, so that hurt us.''
The Owls, who've won 13 of their last 17 games to put themselves into position to receive an at-large berth, pulled within seven twice in the opening minutes of the second half.
Each time, UConn did whatever necessary to stay in control.
When Devin Coleman's layup trimmed Temple's deficit to 55-49, Sterling Gibbs answered with a 3-pointer for the Huskies, who also held off the Owls' last charge after Quenton DeCosey's layup cut UConn's lead to seven with under 5 minutes left. Hamilton hit a jumper to restore order and Adams made a layup and two free throws before Miller put the game away with a pair of free throws and two thunderous dunks.
Hamilton was 8-of-14 shooting after contributing 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists while playing 55 minutes in UConn's 104-97 win over Cincinnati in the quarterfinals. The 6-foot-7 swingman had a team-high 11 rebounds Saturday.
DeCosey finished with 14 points, but was 4-of-17 shooting, including 0 for 5 from behind the 3-point line, for Temple. Josh Brown had 10 points.
Now, the Owls will play the waiting game, hoping they've done enough to be part of March Madness.
''All I can say is I hope. ... It's, again, in the hands of the committee, and we'll see how other games play out over the next number of hours,'' Dunphy said.
UConn: Entered Saturday shooting a nation-best 78.4 percent from the foul line. Went 12 for 15 against Temple after making 22 of 24 in Friday's win over Cincinnati. ... Huskies improved to 7-7 against Temple, beating the Owls for the first time since Feb. 20, 2014 - a stretch of four games.
Temple: The Owls won 55-53 on the road on Jan. 5 and 63-58 at home on Feb. 11. ... The regular-season conference title is Temple's first since 2012 in the Atlantic 10.
UConn: Sunday's tournament final. A win gives the Huskies the American's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Temple: Owls await an at-large berth in the NCAAs.