Justin McBride gave Central Florida a glimmer of hope Sunday night. It just didn't last that long.
The 6-foot-10 freshman came off the bench with No. 22 Connecticut leading by 18 in the second half. He scored 11 points in the next 8 minutes to help the Knights cut their deficit to eight, but the rally stalled there and UConn pulled away for a 75-55 victory.
It was the eighth straight defeat for the Knights (9-12, 1-9 American Athletic Conference), who gave fans their first extended look at McBride. The 310-pound center got off to a great start before getting tired.
"You're always looking to grab on to any moment you can and Justin was really a bright spot for us tonight," coach Donnie Jones said. "We've got to pick and choose the situations for him right now, but you earn your respect and he's earned some now."
Isaiah Sykes was the only other UCF player in double figures with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists.
McBride sat out the first 17 games of the season while recovering from a knee injury. He has played in four of the last six, but never for more than 5 minutes. He got 13 minutes against Connecticut, scoring 13 points and grabbing three rebounds.
"I thank Coach for not putting me in there prematurely," McBride said. "He let me get some practice and some contact and I think I'm over the hurdle now."
That could be good news for the Knights.
"We need a spark and he can definitely do that for us," teammate Kasey Wilson said. "With his size and skill level, he's going to be able to give us something on a night in, night out basis as soon as he gets in condition."
As good as McBride was in limited action, it wasn't enough to upset a Connecticut team that had far more balance and depth.
UConn put five players in double figures, led by Shabazz Napier and Lasan Kromah, who had 17 points and seven rebounds each. DeAndre Daniels added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Huskies (18-5, 6-4), who led by 17 at halftime and withstood a mild second-half rally by the Knights to win for the fourth time in five games.
"The second half we got a little sloppy and complacent but we composed ourselves, so overall I was pleased," coach Kevin Ollie said.
UConn got 11 points from Ryan Boatright and 10 from Phillip Nolan, who hit all five of his shots from the field. The Huskies led 41-24 at halftime after outscoring UCF 24-6 in the final 10 minutes of the half.
"We were playing basketball the way it should be played," Napier said. "We were doing what we do best, which is running and playing good defense. We were having fun."
Jones said UCF is not yet on Connecticut's level.
"I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but we can learn from this and get after it again tomorrow," Jones said. "Connecticut is a Top 25 team and they showed why out there today. They've been at this level for a long time and we're still trying to get there. We're going to get there, it's just going to take some time."
UCF stayed with Connecticut for the first 10 minutes, mostly because of Sykes. The 6-foot-6 senior had 10 points, including a three-point play that tied the score at 15. Matt Williams hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to give UCF an 18-17 lead, but it was all Connecticut from there.
Daniels, Napier, Kromah and Boatright each scored during a 9-0 that made it 26-18 and demonstrated the Huskies' balance on offense.
Connecticut's defense, meanwhile, shut out Sykes the rest of the half and limited UCF to 34.6 percent shooting (9 of 26) while extending the lead to 41-24.
"We rebounded and got out on the fast break and Lasan was terrific," Ollie said. "I think he got four steals and made some amazing layups. Everybody was running, playing together and playing unselfish."
The teams traded baskets after halftime until McBride lumbered onto the court. He was too much for Connecticut's inside players to handle, but his lack of conditioning showed.
"I tried to do what I could do to help us win, but I got gassed. I got real gassed," McBride said.
So did the Knights.
After a 3-pointer by Wilson pulled UCF to 57-49 with 7:20 left, UConn responded quickly to the challenge. The Huskies got a follow shot from Nolan and back-to-back steals from Napier, who converted them into a layup and two free throws to boost Connecticut's lead back up to 63-49.
McBride scored his last basket on a dunk to trim the deficit to 12, but that was as close as Central Florida got the rest of the way.