Connecticut continues to feel right at home in a tournament environment.
The fourth-ranked Huskies try for a 17th straight victory when they face Central Florida on Friday in the semifinals of the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
UConn (5-0) is off to a good start in its latest tournament experience after beating North Carolina-Asheville 73-63 in opening-round play Thursday. The result was the Huskies’ 15th straight win in tournament play. They won the Maui Invitational last season, then made an improbable run to win both the Big East and NCAA tournament titles to conclude one of the most memorable seasons in school history.
UConn, which has won 16 in a row overall since losing 70-67 to Notre Dame on March 5, has won its first five games by an average margin of 14.4 points. Its victory over UNC-Asheville was its closest of the season.
“Overall, a win is a win, but no one’s played us even near that hard since we played Butler (in the NCAA title game) last year,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.
Huskies sophomore guards Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier each scored 23 points versus Asheville and combined to shoot 15 of 27 from the field, including 7 for 16 from 3-point range. UConn shot 53.2 percent overall to overcome a season high-tying 19 turnovers.
Lamb, who came of age while averaging 16.2 points during the NCAA tournament as a freshman last season, is averaging 22.8 through the first five games of 2011-12, while shooting 51.3 percent (40 for 78) from the field.
Napier, meanwhile, has totaled 45 points, shot 15 of 28 and added 20 assists in his last two games after being held to eight points and three assists in an 80-60 win over Maine on Nov. 17.
Central Florida (3-1) will get its first look at UConn’s talented backcourt tandem when it meets the Huskies for the first time since a 60-51 loss Dec. 20, 2009. Marcus Jordan, son of NBA legend Michael Jordan, had 13 points off the bench in that contest. He finished with 17 and six assists in the Knights’ 74-63 opening-round victory over College of Charleston on Thursday.
Junior Keith Clanton matched a career high with 28 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the tournament opener for Central Florida, which shot 55.6 percent in the second half and closed the game on an 18-5 run.
“What a great basketball game to open up this tournament,” Central Florida coach Donnie Jones told the school’s official website.
Clanton, who has recorded 48 points and 29 rebounds over the last two games, scored seven points against UConn as a freshman starter in 2009.
The Knights will face their second ranked opponent in four games after losing 73-50 at then-No. 25 Florida State on Nov. 14. Central Florida could get a rematch with the Seminoles, who also earned a spot in Friday’s semifinal round with a 73-53 win over Massachusetts.