for this game

Austrie's buzzer beater lifts UConn past pesky South Florida

Feb 16, 2008 - 10:58 PM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Craig Austrie knew he had enough time to extend Connecticut's winning streak with the biggest shot of his collegiate career.

Austrie drilled a running 12-foot jumper in the final second of overtime Saturday afternoon, lifting the 17th-ranked Huskies to a 74-73 Big East Conference triumph over South Florida.

"I knew there were six seconds left," said Austrie, a junior who has been a key contributor this season. "I just wanted to get the ball as I deep as I can in the paint and then pull up and get a shot off."

Austrie's off-balance shot capped the ninth straight victory for UConn (20-5, 9-3 Big East), which was in danger of becoming the latest powerhouse program to lose to the pesky Bulls (11-15, 2-11).

"We stayed with it, and that's the difference between this year's team and last year's team," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun, whose team remained third behind Georgetown and Louisville in the Big East standings. "I totally believe that there are some special (things) at play and with six games to go, we will see what happens."

A seldom-used reserve over his first two years in Storrs, Austrie often found himself buried on UConn's bench due to his indecisiveness as a freshman and sophomore.

But since being inserted into the starting lineup following the suspensions of guards Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins, Austrie has emerged as a pivotal player for the red-hot Huskies, who are on their longest winning streak since opening last season with 11 consecutive wins.

The 6-3 Austrie has averaged 10.9 points as a starter over his last seven games, developing into one of UConn's more reliable shooters over that stretch. It was Austrie's newfound self-confidence, according to Calhoun, that allowed him to make the buzzer-beating shot.

"I thought Austrie made a play that we talked about," Calhoun said. "If it's late and they make something, we are coming at (Austrie).

"We are not calling a timeout because they are not going to be ready. We had said that in the timeout, and Craig knew what to do."

A.J. Price scored 23 points and dished out seven assists while Wiggins added a career-high 20 off the bench in his fifth game since returning from a school-imposed suspension for alcohol possession.

Jeff Adrien chipped in 12 points while 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet finished with nine rebounds and eight blocks for the Huskies, who have won six straight meetings with South Florida.

The Bulls took a 73-72 lead with six seconds remaining in overtime on Dominique Jones' putback layup. South Florida would not let Price take the ensuing inbounds pass, forcing the ball to Austrie.

The junior guard sped the ball across half court toward the free-throw line, pulled up near the right elbow and hung in the air before draining the decisive shot with two-tenths of a second left.

"That was a hell of a shot that the kid knocked down, Austrie," Bulls coach Stan Heath said. "I feel for our guys because they played with their whole hearts."

The Huskies appeared to be sleepwalking through most of this matinee contest with the lowly Bulls, shooting just 43 percent (25-of-58) from the floor while allowing undersized South Florida to enjoy a 44-35 edge on the glass.

UConn took a 65-62 lead on Austrie's tough floater with 48 seconds left in regulation, a wild shot which apparently set up the Huskies for another close win. Seven of the wins in UConn's nine-game run have come by seven points or less.

But Jesus Verdejo forced overtime in thrilling fashion, coming off a screen near the top of the arc and drilling a game-tying 3-pointer with 23 seconds left.

Kentrell Gransberry paced South Florida with 26 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. Verdejo scored 17 points off the bench while Jones added 14 for the Bulls, who were coming off Wednesday's 89-78 upset of Syracuse.

"We knew all along that we could play with them and we stuck with them," Gransberry said. "(Austrie) just hit a tough shot, and you can't ask for nothing more."