Connecticut was on the right side of the bubble going into its game against No. 21 SMU on Thursday night, but it had little room for error going down the stretch.
Well, the Huskies bought themselves some room against the Mustangs.
Kevin Ollie’s group defeated SMU 68-62 to move to 18-7 overall and draw even with the Mustangs in the conference at 9-4. They’re each one game behind 10-3 Temple, which also has the tiebreaker over each of them in the league. It was a bit ugly and hairy near the end, but in the end it was the defense that pulled it out for Ollie and company.
Amida Brimah led the way with 16 points, but it was his protection of the rim that held the biggest value for the Huskies. SMU shot 12 of 32 within eight feet of the rim and only 37 percent overall. Brimah was responsible for blocking five of those shots and contested countless shots to make a difference. Offensively, his play on the offensive glass was huge, as his six offensive rebounds led directly to nine points. That’s the difference in the game, folks.
Daniel Hamilton had his typical well-rounded, inefficient-shooting night with 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting to go with six rebounds and four assists. Shonn Miller also had 12 points and seven rebounds for the winners.
Connecticut came into the night with the nation’s No. 45 RPI ranking, only one top-50 win, and a losing record against the top 100 teams in the country. They leave it though with a second win — their biggest of the season over the No. 12 team in the country by that metric, and a now .500 mark against the top 100. One thing other going in their favor is that the Huskies don’t have a loss to a sub-70 RPI team, a nice feather that many other at-large hopefuls can’t say themselves.
Realistically, the Huskies should feel pretty good about where they are after this win. As long as they avoid bad losses down the stretch and hold their home court, they should be dancing in March.