By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
HARTFORD, Conn. (CBS Connecticut) – Rodney Purvis knew that this could be his last game in a Uconn uniform, but was he thinking about it?
“That’s definitely not the first thing I’m thinking about is my career coming to an end, so I’m just trying to get a win,” Purvis said. “That’s not even in my mind.”
Getting the win is exactly what the Huskies did, 77-66.
Some may say that there was no reason for Purvis and his teammates to think this way as they were going up against a South Florida squad that entered the game 1-17 in conference play this season. But it’s entirely possible that the thought crept into their heads as South Florida’s Geno Thorpe hit a three pointer to cut Uconn’s lead to 67-65 with 2:48 to play.
Every time Uconn needed the Senior guard to come up big, he did just that. With six minutes to go in the first half it was clear that USF wasn’t going to go away easily. The Huskies led by 2 points and the crowd was starting to get anxious. Purvis took matters in to his own hands and scored the next 5 points with a thunderous dunk followed by a three pointer. Any time it felt like USF was seizing momentum, Purvis made sure it quickly shifted back in Uconn’s favor.
“If anybody follows Purv, he played some of his best basketball in this tournament and in the NCAA Tournament,” Uconn Head Coach Kevin Ollie said.
Uconn needed “Purv’s” best basketball because he was matched shot for shot by USF’s Geno Thorpe all night.
Thorpe finished the game with 23 points of his own before fouling out of the game with 2 minutes left to play. He constantly countered any sort of run Uconn went on with an attempt to extend the lead. Not only did he have 23 points and 4 three point baskets, he also had 6 assists in the game.
“I give credit to USF. They played a great game. Thorpe was tremendous,” Ollie said.
While the XL Center wasn’t full of Uconn fans – The attendance was announced at just under 5,000 – the ones that were there were extremely vocal and it was without a doubt the loudest the building got all day.
“I totally agree with that. I think players like to play in front of a good crowd and the crowd did get energized,” USF interim Head Coach Murry Bartow said when asked if the underdog mentality of his players was fueled by the pro Uconn crowd. “Again, when you’re down, you’re losing and losing and losing and down 13 in a half, that can quickly go to 25. And next thing you know it’s a one-possession game, they’re right there at the very end. So very proud of our guys.”
Uconn knows it needs to shore up a few things heading into tonight’s quarterfinal match up with Houston.
“We can’t play like this and expect to advance,” Ollie said. “We can’t have 16 turnovers. We’ve got to shoot the ball better. We’ve got to execute on the offensive end. Because if you want to play good defensive transition you have to do well in the offensive end. That’s offensive rebounding and that’s playing with more execution.”
Houston needs tonight’s game as it is sitting very close to the NCAA Tournament bubble. There will definitely be more Uconn fans in attendance given the opponent and it being a Friday night. It’ll be interesting to see if Houston embraces the underdog mentality as well even though they are a much higher seed. Uconn knows what it has to do, it’s just a matter of execution at this point.
Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini for coverage of the AAC Men’s Basketball Tournament at the XL Center in Hartford all weekend long.