By Dom Amore, The Hartford Courant
ORLANDO, Fla. – UConn was bolstered by the return of DeAndre Daniels to its lineup, and picked up a road win, beating Central Florida, 75-55, Sunday Night in American Athletic Conference men’s basketball at CFE Arena.
Daniels, who had missed the two previous games with ankle and back injuries, scored 16 points and had seven rebound for UConn (18-5, 6-4). Lasan Kromah and Shabazz Napier each had 17 points and seven rebounds, and Napier added six assists. Ryan Boatright scored 11.
But despite the score, this was not an easy win for the Huskies. They did outscore UCF 19-3 late in the first half to take control of the game, but they spent the second half holding the Knights off. UCF coach Donnie Jones inserted freshman Justin McBride, a 6-foot-10, 315-pound freshman who had never scored before. UConn dominated play in the paint to build a 19-point lead early in the second half, but McBride pushed the Huskies around inside, and changed the tenor the game. The Knights cut the lead down to eight points, 57-49, before Napier steadied it with steals on back-to-back possessions, scoring four points off the turnovers. UConn rebuild its lead, back to 16 points on Napier’s drive and hook shot with 3:02 to go, making it 69-53.
After Ryan Boatright scored to make it 71-53, McBride came out of the game and the Huskies closed it out.
Isaiah Sykes scored 17 points for UCF (9-12, 1-9 in the AAC), which has lost eight in a row, two of those to the Huskies by 20 or more points.
The Huskies came out a little sluggish as Daniels, back from his sprained ankle and back spasms, missed four shots in the paint. UConn was trying to establish that.
UCF started off with a hot shooting touch, with Isaiah Sykes scoring 10 early points and led 18-17 with 10:11 to go in the half.
Then the Huskies began doing all the things they did against UCF at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 11, and all the things they did not do at Cincinnati last Thursday. Daniels came back in and began hitting those shots, and the Huskies, with floor spread, were able get some open threes, and attack the rim. They outscored the Knights 19-3 to take a 36-21 lead on Lasan Kromah’s layup, the result of an effective long outlet pass from Phil Nolan. Daniels’ layup, off a Napier assist, extended the lead to 41-24 at the half. The Huskies had dominated inside, outrebounding UCF 24-14 and outscoring their opponent in the paint, 24-10. More important, after getting only six assists in the entire game at Cincinnati, UConn had nine on its 17 field goals in the first half.