TAMPA, Fla. — No. 9 Connecticut got a much-needed spark from Jeremy Lamb, who made sure the Huskies found a way to hold off South Florida in its Big East opener without suspended coach Jim Calhoun.
Lamb, a Norcross grad, scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half and had a jumper and three free throws over the final 1:46 to help the Huskies (11-1, 1-0) beat the Bulls 60-57 on Wednesday night for their sixth consecutive victory.
Calhoun did not make the trip to Tampa, remaining behind as he began serving a three-game suspension by the NCAA for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance within the program.
Assistant coach George Blaney, a former head coach at Holy Cross and Seton Hall, is leading the defending national champions during the ban.
"I miss him. I miss him because he would have loved the game," Blaney said of Calhoun. "I'm sure he didn't love not being here, but he loved the game because it was competitive. It was really competitive ."
Lamb made 8 of 11 shots from the field and six of eight free throws. Ryan Boatright added nine points for the Huskies, who overcame a slow start and 44 percent shooting by limiting South Florida to four field goals over the final 12 minutes and 38 percent shooting for the game.
"Jeremy was being played really, really well, and very physical," Blaney said. "He adjusted in the second half by coming tighter off the screens. ... Twenty-three points in this kind of game is a big-time number."
Calhoun will also miss UConn's Dec. 31 home game against St. John's and a Jan. 3 road game against Seton Hall before returning to the bench against Rutgers on Jan. 7. The Huskies improved to 10-9 all-time without the Hall of Fame coach on the bench for an entire game, 21-8 when Calhoun's missed at least a portion of a game.
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick had 14 points and 12 rebounds for USF (7-7, 0-1), which hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"We had our chances. We played well. We played hard," USF coach Stan Heath said. "Obviously, Lamb is Lamb. When Lamb's playing like that, that's what a pro looks like. He just made some tough shots and took over."
Despite playing UConn tough since moving from Conference USA into the Big East in 2005, USF has lost nine of 10 meetings against the Huskies, with the only victory coming in the school's on-campus arena in March 2010. With the Sun Dome undergoing renovation, the Bulls are playing their conference home games in the 20,000-seat St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa.
The Huskies trailed even before the opening tip, with USF's Shaun Noriega's making one of two free throws the Bulls were awarded after the UConn bench was assessed a technical foul for failing to submit its starting lineup on time.
"My fault. We didn't put the lineup in the scorebook. ... You have to put it in 10 minutes before, and we just didn't do it," Blaney said.
In its first true road game of the season, U Conn fought back from an early 12-4 deficit and tied the score twice before Roscoe Smith made two free throws to give the Huskies their first lead with 8 seconds remaining in the first half. It was 30-28 at halftime and UConn pulled away for good during a stretch when Lamb scored seven points in less than 2 minutes.
Fitzpatrick helped USF to its promising start, making three 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes. But the 6-foot-8 forward didn't score again until he made two free throws and another long 3-pointer to get the Bulls within 56-51 with 35.2 seconds to go. Shabazz Napier made a free throw and Lamb converted three of four from the foul line to finish the victory.
"Especially with them being the defending champions, this was a game that we were really hyped for," Fitzpatrick said. "We really practiced hard and we prepared well, and we thought that we had a pretty good chance this year to beat them. As you could see, we can play with them, but we just didn't f inish."