ORLANDO, Fla. — The UConn Huskies are still looking for their first title in American Athletic Conference Championship.
On Sunday afternoon, they’ll get that chance.
UConn’s 77-62 win over Temple in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Championship sends them to their third consecutive appearance in the title game, where they will face the winner of Memphis-Tulane.
“They were focused and determined to get to this championship game,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “We wouldn’t have it any other way. To go through Cincinnati, a team we lost to twice, and also a great Temple team that we lost twice to. So, we really want to savor this, but then go back to the hotel, get off our feet, relax a little bit, and get ready for the winner of Memphis and Tulane.”
Daniel Hamilton and Shonn Miller led the way with 19 points each to pace the Huskies.
Hamilton added 11 rebounds to complete his 10th double-double of the season. He had a career-high 32 points in Friday’s victory over Cincinnati.
“He’s playing like a pro,” Jalen Adams said. “He’s taking good shots, he’s taking care of the ball. He’s leading us out there; he’s definitely grown up a lot, even though he’s already a sophomore. He’s grown up a lot. He’s playing like a senior right now.”
The game did not get off to the start UConn wanted. Hamilton drilled a jumper in the game’s first possession, but that was the extent of the scoring early. Temple went on a 7-0 run over the next 3:35 to take a 7-2 lead.
From there, however, it was all UConn (23-10). They went on a 33-12 run over the next 13 minutes. The Huskies shot 55.2 percent from the field in the first half and entered the break with a 39-28 lead.
It was an all-around effort. The defense held the Owls (21-11) to just 28.1 percent shooting. Amida Brimah, who came off the bench for the third consecutive game, grabbed seven rebounds and had three blocks.
“(Our mentality was) just making them take tough twos. What really helped us, they took 20 threes and made four,” Ollie said.
Quenton Decosey, Temple’s leading scorer and first team All-Conference guard, struggled all afternoon. He finished with just 14 points on 4 of 17 shooting.
“Rodney (Purvis) don’t get all the credit, but I thought Rodney did a great job on DeCosey starting the game out, and then Daniel kind of cleaned it up at the end. But Rodney really set that tone with the intensity, moving his feet and playing great basketball on the defensive end,” Ollie said.
The game started to tighten up when the second half opened. The Owls made their first five field goals to cut the deficit to seven.
The two sides played evenly throughout the final 20 minutes, but the Owls just could not get over the hump.
Devin Coleman’s layup with 9:44 left brought the Owls to within six, but that was as close as they would get. UConn closed the game on a viciously efficient 22-13 run, punctuated by several powerful dunks from Miller.
Saturday’s victory was key for the future playoff hopes of UConn. Temple was the regular season conference champion, No. 1 seed in the tournament and had swept the Huskies in their season series. According to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, a win would put the Huskies firmly in the field of 68.
“I just think we got a great group of teams. We deserve a lot of at large bids and of course, somebody is going to take a bid with the championship game here tomorrow,” Ollie said.
The Huskies are in search of their first American Athletic Conference tournament championship. UConn had won seven Big East tournament championships, most recently in 2011.
“We still got one more game left,” Ollie said. “We have been in the championship in the last three years here, and hopefully third time is the charm like everybody says.”