HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Amida Brimah decided to take the tape off his injured right hand during Thursday morning's shootaround.
That night, UConn's 7-foot junior, playing in his sixth game since missing more than a month with a broken middle finger, had 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies improved its NCAA Tournament resume with a 68-62 victory over No. 21 SMU.
With his shooting hand unencumbered, Brimah had an easier time winning battles for the ball. He hit six of his eight shots from the field and made four of five free throws.
''It's hard for me to catch the ball with the tape on,'' Brimah said. ''It definitely made a big difference.''
Nic Moore scored 14 points and Ben Moore had 13 points and 12 rebounds for SMU (21-4, 9-4). The Mustangs, who are ineligible for postseason play, are 3-4 since their 18-0 start to the season.
A dunk by Brimah on a lob pass from Omar Calhoun capped an 8-0 run that gave the Huskies a 61-52 lead with just under 5 minutes left in the game.
But UConn has had a hard time holding big second-half leads. They led by 12 points in the second half before losing to Temple a week ago and led by 20 before holding on for a two-point win over Tulsa last Saturday.
The Mustangs, too, battled back.
Nic Moore's jumper made it 64-62 with 1:19 left. SMU had a chance to tie it again when Brimah was called for a foul while trying to block a driving layup by Markus Kennedy with 37 seconds left. But Kennedy missed both free throws.
Shake Milton missed a 3-point attempt with 17 seconds left that could have cut the lead to a point and Hamilton hit two free throws on the other end to secure the win.
''It's a real big loss,'' Nic Moore said. ''We had a chance. Looking down the stretch, they just made shots and we didn't.''
The Huskies have won five of their last six games.
Brimah had scored just 19 total points in the five previous games since his return and had been in early foul trouble in most of them.
He had no fouls at halftime and finished with just two, playing 33 minutes.
''He's definitely back,'' UConn guard Jalen Adams said. ''He played great. He was catching every alley-oop, blocking every shot, rebounding. There was nothing he didn't do.''
UConn was 0-2 against ranked opponents coming into the game, having lost non-conference games to Gonzaga and Maryland.
The Huskies have lost twice to Temple and once to Cincinnati, the other teams above them in the conference standings coming into Thursday.
''We're at the base of the mountain and now we're climbing a little bit,'' UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. ''Now, we've got to continue to climb together.''
The Mustangs came into the night a half-game behind Temple for the lead in the race for the regular-season title, the only title they can win because of NCAA sanctions.
They had been hitting better than 50 percent of their shots from the field, but were held to 43 percent by UConn. The Mustangs had been outrebounding opponents by almost 10 boards a game, but grabbed just two more than the Huskies.
The teams meet again in Dallas on March 3.
UConn: The Huskies hit five 3-pointers, extending their streak of hitting at least one 3 to 235 straight games. The Huskies last failed to make a 3-pointer on Nov. 27, 2009, against Duke at Madison Square Garden.
UConn: Visit Cincinnati on Saturday.
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