STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn coach Kevin Ollie called it a case of "the basketball gods giving back a treat" to freshman center Amida Brimah.
Central Florida coach Donnie Jones acknowledged game film he saw of the Huskies gave no indication that Brimah was capable of what he did Saturday night.
Brimah scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds, both career highs, and added five blocked shots in 20 minutes as UConn recorded its first-ever American Athletic Conference victory with an 84-61 victory over UCF before 9,561 at Gampel Pavilion.
UConn guard Shabazz Napier scored 14 points, handed out 11 assists and had five steals. DeAndre Daniels added 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks and Ryan Boatright scored 11 points as UConn (13-3, 1-2) won its second consecutive game.
Ollie may have been most pleased by UConn's 50 rebounds, the highest total for the Huskies in his two seasons as head coach. Brimah certainly sparked that effort, coming off the bench for with six offensive boards as UConn finished with 21 second-chance points.
"I'd be lying to you if said I saw 20 points and eight rebounds and five blocks in 20 minutes," Ollie said when asked if had any premonition Brimah's outburst was coming. "(We've) been working with him. He's been in there weightlifting and getting extra lifts in. That's what it's all about. That kid gives so much to his teammates (on the bench), I think it's only right that the basketball gods are going to pay you back."
Isaiah Sykes led UCF (9-5, 1-2) with 17 points but was held in check by an aggressive UConn defense most of the game. Sykes entered the game averaging 15 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He had three rebounds and four assists.
Unofficially, UConn was plus-37 with Brimah in the game.
"Boatright and Napier understand the impact of whatever you've got to do to win," Jones said. "Tonight, the big fella did a good job. They got him the ball and he finished. He impacted the game, not only offensively, but defensively."
Brimah made 8 of 10 shots from the field and was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. He scored six points, including a dunk off a Daniels assist, during a 10-0 run early in the game that gave UConn a 20-12 lead. The Knights used a zone defense to stifle the Huskies temporarily and pulled within 22-21 after an 8-0 run of their own. But Brimah's final basket of the first half, a put-back with 5:20 left, gave UConn a 28-22 advantage and the Huskies closed out the first half with a 35-24 lead.
"After (Daniels) passed it, I got more comfortable," Brimah said. "When you have a good play, it helps you to improve your game. ... I was just getting comfortable. I've been putting in extra work in the weight room."
Daniels said he thought that dunk got Brimah "going." Brimah's previous high-scoring total was seven points against Yale on Nov. 11. The freshman center from Ghana has played six scoreless games this season, including three of four prior to Saturday.
"He's a great, great teammate," Daniels said. "He doesn't care about scoring. All he wants to do is rebound the basketball and protect the play by blocking shots. He brings energy every day in practice."
UCF quickly cut UConn's lead to 36-32 early in the second half and the Knights closed to within 45-39 on a 3-pointer by Matt Williams (nine points). But a driving layup by Boatright with 11:59 remaining got the Huskies back on track and two dunks by Brimah gave UConn a 67-51 lead with 5 minutes to play. UConn committed only two turnovers in the second half.
"We were right where we wanted to be," Jones said. "We got back in it. But I thought (UConn) played much harder tonight as a team."
The Huskies entered the game ranked last in the American in rebounding but held a 24-15 advantage on the boards in the first half against the conference's top-rebounding team. UCF entered the game averaging 40.9 rebounds a game, compared with UConn's 34.9.
UConn, which won or shared 10 regular season championships as a member of the Big East Conference, had not started 0-2 in league play since the 1989-90 season. The Huskies fell out of the national polls for the first time this season after consecutive conference road losses at Houston and SMU, but bounced back with a 61-56 victory over Harvard in Storrs on Wednesday.
"It just makes life so much easier for a coach," Ollie said of UConn's improved play inside against the Knights. "I don't have to sit there and draw-up any plays. They were averaging (79) points. To hold them to 61 was a great job defensively. But I think it was all the things we were doing offensively — taking good shots, not turning the ball over and offensive rebounding allowed us to get back on defense."