HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut guard Rodney Purvis insists he wasn’t thinking about prolonging his college basketball career, but he certainly played like a guy desperately trying to avoid the end.
Purvis, a senior from Raleigh, N.C., had one of those lines in the box score that players can only dream about, scoring a career-high 30 points in 39 minutes to help the Huskies (15-16) hold off USF 77-66 in the first round of the American Athletic Conference championship Thursday night at the XL Center.
“That’s definitely not the fist thing I’m thinking about is my career coming to an end,” Purvis said after the game. “I’m just trying to get a win. I mean, going into the game, we know what is at stake as a team, None of us want our season to end right now, sot that was our mindset the entire night.”
It wasn’t just the scoring that kept UConn’s season alive against the pesky, last-place Bulls (7-23).
Purvis had six rebounds, two blocks, three steals, no turnovers and just one foul. He was 9-for-17 from the field, 3-for-6 from 3-point range, had several highlight reel slam dunks and was 9-for-10 from the free throw line – a place that hasn’t always been kind to him.
A reporter asked it was the best game of his UConn career.
“I’m not really sure – I know I played a pretty good game,” he said. “But I’m just happy we got the win. I didn’t know I had no turnovers, so I appreciate that.”
There is no bubble talk for this UConn team. Their mission in the league tournament is clear. As the No. 6 seed the Huskies must win four straight games in four days to claim the conference championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
As UConn coach Kevin Ollie has said, “There’s no plan B.”
it’s not an impossible task. It has been done. But the task is tremendous considering the injury-filled season and adversity that UConn has faced this season.
Step one was more difficult than it should have been. Purvis saved the day.
“Purv has played some of his best basketball in this tournament and in the NCAA tournament,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “When we needed a big play,, he came up with it. He’s probably one of the best defensive players laterally moving his feet. And if he wants to play basketball after this, that’s what he’s going to have to become. He’s going to have to become that great two-way player.”
Step two comes Friday night at the XL against No. 3 seed Houston (21-9), a team that beat UConn twice in the regular season, and is rested after a first-round bye. Houston will be a much more talented opponent than USF. The Bulls had 21 turnover and fouled the Huskies 23 times. UConn converted that into 27 points on 81.8 percent shooting from the free throw line.
Houston beat UConn 62-46 in the AAC opener in Dec. 28 in Hartford. Point guard Jalen Adams was suffering from a concussion and didn’t play in that game. At Houston on Feb. 22, the Huskies blew a 39-29 halftime lead and lost 75-70.
“Rebound and transition,” Ollie said when asked the keys to beating Houston. “We can’t play like [Thursday] and expect to advance. We can’t have 16 turnovers. We’ve got to shoot the ball better [than 40.7 percent].”
Houston’s Damyean Dotson and Rob Gray, who combined to score almost 38 points a game for the Cougars, were both first-team All-AAC selections. But Adams might be the key to this game. He played 39 minutes against USF, coming off an ankle sprain that restricted him at the end of the season.
“It will be a road game for us,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said of playing UConn in the XL Center. “But regardless of who you play, you have to win the first game and then you go from there.I think you take the first game [in Hartford] and throw it out because they played without Jalen Adams. The timing of that was good for us.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best Connecticut team yet”