HARTFORD, Conn. -- University of Connecticut senior guard Ryan Boatright (Aurora, Ill.) hit a step back 3-pointer with two-tenths of a second on the clock Friday to keep defending national champion UConn's NCAA Tournament hopes alive with a 57-54 win over Cincinnati Friday in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals. The Huskies, who improved to 19-13 overall with the win, will face Tulsa in Saturday's semifinal round (5 p.m.).
Boatright finished with 18 points and redshirt sophomore guard Rodney Purvis (Raleigh, N.C.) added 17 for the sixth-seeded Huskies.
Troy Caupain had 12 points to lead Cincinnati (22-10) which may find itself on the tournament bubble after the loss.
The Bearcats overcame a five-point deficit over the final 1:25, tying the game when Shaq Thomas followed a missed Caupain layup with 13.5 seconds left.
After a timeout, Boatright took the inbounds pass and drove down the court, using a cross-over jab-step to gain separation from Octavious Ellis and launching the game-winner. The game had seven lead changes and was tied 10 times. It was deadlocked at 45 for more than 2 ½ minutes before the Huskies' Daniel Hamilton (Los Angeles, Calif.) launched a long 3-pointer as the shot clock ran down and banked it home.
UConn sophomore center Amida Brimah (Accra, Ghana) then blocked Caupain's layup attempt, sparking a fast break that ended with a Purvis layup. Brimah's putback of a Hamilton miss on UConn's next possession made it 52-47.
Thomas hit two key put-backs in the final minute. His last came after Boatright missed the front of a one-and-one.
Cincinnati came in ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, allowing just 55.2 points a game, while the Huskies were allowing just 60.5.
The Bearcats held the Huskies to 38 percent shooting while hitting 45 percent of their own shots, but could not make the final stop.
The teams got off to a predictably slow start. Cincinnati used a 5-0 run to take a 12-7 advantage 11 minutes into the game.
But UConn tied the game on its next possession after Ellis was hit with a technical foul for shoving UConn's Phil Nolan. Boatright hit the both free throws and made a 3-pointer from the left corner. Brimah was whi stled for two early fouls. With the conference's defensive player of the year on the bench, Cincinnati went down low. They outscored UConn 14-6 in the paint and had an 11-2 advantage on second-chance points in the first half, but took just a 22-21 lead into the locker room.
Ellis finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Thomas had 10 points and seven boards.
Seven of the last eight meetings between the two teams had been decided by single digits.
The Bearcats came into the game on a five-game winning streak. Acting Coach Larry Davis says they still expect to get a bid to the tournament for the fifth consecutive season. Cincinnati and UConn split during the regular season, each winning on their own court in January. UConn won 62-56 at the XL Center and the Bearcats won 70-58 in Cincinnati. The Huskies beat the Bearcats in last year's conference tournament, 58-56, in the semifinals.
The Huskies reached the quarterfinals with a 69-43 win over USF in the first round. It was Kevin Ollie's 70th win as head coach and he became the only UConn coach to reach that milestone in fewer than three seasons.
UConn is now 8-1 this season at the XL Center.
UConn: Boatright now has 1,758 career points and needs just 25 to pass Kemba Walker on the school's career list.
The Huskies played without forward Kentan Facey, who missed his second consecutive game after suffering a concussion in practice Tuesday. Ollie said he and Hamilton banged heads, and Facey, who is averaging 4.5 points and 5.3 rebounds, got the worst of it.
Reserve guard Sam Cassell Jr. missed his 14th consecutive game with a stress fracture in his right leg.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats lost their first game in a conference tournament for the first time in six years...The Bearcats debuted new home white uniforms, featuring a wide black stripe on the waistline and enlarged team logos on the shorts, with black and red stripes at the bottom of one leg.
Davis is now 15-8 since taking over from Mick Cronin, who left the team in December because of a problem with a blood vessel in his head.
UConn will face No. 2 seed Tulsa in Saturday's semifinals. The Golden Hurricane beat Houston 59-51 earlier Friday.
Cincinnati waits for what it hopes will be an NCAA Tournament bid.