- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Daniel Hamilton committed three early turnovers, didn’t hit a shot and found himself on UConn’s bench for much of Sunday’s first half against UCF.

He came back in with just over 15 minutes to play, scored 12 points and led the Huskies to 67-46 win in the final game of the regular season.

Sterling Gibbs added 10 points for the Huskies (21-10, 11-7 American Athletic), who needed the victory to stay in contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“I just had to settle down and get myself going,” Hamilton said. “I came out kind of flat, kind of stiff and I got benched. Once he put me back in, I was ready to play.”

UConn led by just six points at halftime before outscoring UCF 37-22 in the second half.

Tacko Fall had 13 points in just 23 minutes to lead the Knights (12-17, 6-12), who have lost eight of their last nine games.

The 7-foot-6 freshman, who reached double figures for the third consecutive game, hit six of his seven shots. The rest of the Knights were 10 of 39 from the floor.

Fall, who had just three points in a loss to UConn in January, had four points in the first two minutes as the Knights jumped out to an 8-0 lead.

“He is huge,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. “Once they put shooters around him, he’s hard to double.”

But Fall also picked up two first-half fouls and played just seven minutes before intermission.

The Huskies went on a 15-2 run, holding the Knights scoreless for 5½ minutes. They took their first lead at 11-10 on a runner in the lane by Omar Calhoun.

Neither team shot well in the half, at one point combining to go 2 of 25 from the floor. But UConn’s bench outscored the Knights’ subs 15-2 and the Huskies took a 30-24 lead into halftime.

Hamilton played just four minutes in the half. He was benched after grabbing a rebound and throwing an ill-advised long pass that ended up in the UCF bench.

After missing both his shots in the first half, he made 4 of 7 in the second. He also grabbed seven rebounds.

“He just came out and played wonderfully great,” said Ollie. “And it started on the defensive end. We just want to make sure that he understands when he plays defense it makes his offense better.”

A dunk by Amida Brimah gave the Huskies their first double-digit lead at 41-31 with 13 minutes left in the game. The Huskies outscored the Knights 26-15 the rest of the way.

UConn held UCF to just 16 baskets and 34.8 percent shooting. The Huskies shot 43 percent and scored 24 points off 17 turnovers.

The Huskies could have already secured an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but hit a rough patch at the wrong time of the season. Before Sunday’s win they had lost three of four and two in a row for the first time since November. The 80-54 rout at the hands of No. 24 Southern Methodist on Thursday left the Huskies with uncertain postseason prospects.

Because UCF has a low RPI, UConn likely will have to win at least one game in the conference tournament next week to impress the NCAA Tournament committee.

“We want to win in the conference tournament, that’s our mindset,” said Gibbs. “From there, we’ll see what happens.”

The Knights came in off a 73-65 win over Tulane after losing seven in a row. But the last of those losses was by two points at Temple, who will go into next week’s conference tournament as the top seed.

Coach Donnie Jones said his team knows they have to win the league tournament, which is in Orlando, Florida, to get a bid.

“We just talked about the process with our guys and really learning from it and growing these guys,” he said. “Today was another incredible experience for us and you can throw it all out now.”

UConn is now 8-1 against UCF. The Huskies won in Florida in January, holding UCF to a season-low 41 points in a 26-point win.

UConn held UCF to 23.5 percent shooting from the field in their first matchup.

TIP-INS

UCF: Fall had just one blocked shot, giving him 67 for the season. He is just eight shy of John Friday’s single-season school record.

UConn: UConn, which came into the game ranked fifth in the nation in field-goal defense, has now held 21 opponents this season to under 40 percent shooting. The Huskies honored seniors Phil Nolan, Omar Calhoun, Nnamdi Amilo and graduate transfers Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller before the game.

UP NEXT

UCF: The Knights will play as the seventh seed Thursday against Tulane in the first round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

UConn: UConn, the fifth seed in the conference tournament, will play Cincinnati Friday in the quarterfinals.

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