HOUSTON - TaShawn Thomas scored 23 points, including two free throws with nine seconds left, and blocked a late layup by senior guard Shabazz Napier (Roxbury, Mass.) as the No. 17-ranked University of Connecticut men's basketball team fell to Houston 75-71 before a crowd of 4,035 at Hofheinz Pavilion. The game was the American Athletic Conference opener for both team. UConn falls to 11-2 while Houston impoves to 9-5.
Napier scored 25 of his 27 points in the second half as he led the Huskies back from a 21-point first-half deficit to hold a lead with just over a minute remaining. Thomas was eight of 15 from the field and seven of eight from the free throw line and grabbed eight rebounds for Houston, which defeated a ranked team for the first time since beating Central Florida on Jan. 8, 2011.
Jherrod Stiggers added 17 points and Danrad Knowles had 13 points and nine rebounds for the Cougars, who shot 49 percent from the field.
Thomas drove the basket and put up a jumper with nine seconds left but was fouled by senior center Tyler Olander (Mansfield, Conn.). Thomas connected on both free throws to put Houston up by two.
Napier drove coast-to-coast for a layup, but Thomas blocked it and Tione Womack grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Womack hit two free throws to give Houston the four-point lead with two seconds left.
Trailing 71-68, Stiggers tied it with a three-pointer with just over a minute remaining. Napier missed a three-pointer from the top of the key with 38 seconds left.
Napier's only points in the first half came on two free throws with four seconds left. He started the second half by scoring 14 of the Huskies' first 21 points as part of a 21-3 run that tied the game at 49 with 12:55 left on a dunk by senior forward Niels Giffey (Berlin, Germany). Connecticut took its first lead of the game on a three by Daniels with 3:40 remaining that made it 67-64.
The Cougars jumped to a 10-2 lead in the first four-and-a-half minutes on two three-pointers by LeRon Barnes and two jumpers by Thomas, prompting Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie to call a timeout.
Houston upped its lead to 20-8 with 11:53 left in the first half on a layup by Stiggers, prompting another Connecticut timeout. The Cougars pushed the lead to 45-24 on two free throws by Jaaron Simmons with 2:25 left and led 46-28 at halftime.
UConn continues play in Texas Saturday when the Huskies face SMU in Dallas. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game can be seen on ESPNU and heard on the UConn IMG Radio Network.