HARTFORD, Connecticut (Ticker) -- Connecticut may be heavily favored in the Big East Conference, but Pittsburgh is not going to give up its crown without a fight.
Taliek Brown had a key basket down the stretch as the fourth-ranked Huskies survived a stiff challenge from the previously unbeaten and ninth-ranked Panthers with a 68-65 victory at the Hartford Civic Center.
Brown's leaning shot in the lane over Mark McCarroll gave Connecticut (15-2, 3-0 Big East) a 64-63 lead with 1:44 left. The Huskies tried to get the ball to Emeka Okafor, but Brown was forced to take over.
"We were trying to get it into Emeka, but it didn't work," Brown said. "So we went with the swing play and just tried to make something happen, get in the lane, and I scored."
Freshman Josh Boone tipped in a miss by Okafor 40 seconds later for a three-point edge.
The teams exchanged a pair of foul shots before Carl Krauser's layup was blocked by Okafor with nine seconds left. But Brown missed a 1-and-1 opportunity with seven seconds left, giving Pittsburgh (18-1, 4-1) one final chance.
The Panthers inbounded to Krauser, who pushed the ball upcourt, drew a double-team and found a wide-open Antonio Graves. But the freshman's tying 3-point attempt rimmed out at the buzzer, ending the second-best start in Pitt's history.
"Another great play was that Carl made the decision at the end exactly like we set it up, and making that pass to Antonio to give us the opportunity," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who suffered his first loss. "I'd put Antonio out there to take that shot again because he is one of our best shooters. He'll make that shot next time."
UConn, which lost to Pitt in last year's Big East championship, bounced back from Saturday's three-point loss at North Carolina that dropped it from the top spot in the rankings. But it did not come easy against the Panthers, who were relatively untested this season.
"They lost three very good players from last year's team, and we're better than we were last year, and they certainly gave us everything we could handle," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "They're the real deal. They're a really good basketball team - and they faced a really good basketball team."
Denham Brown led the Huskies with 20 points and Ben Gordon netted 16 to overcome a quiet 11-point, seven-rebound effort by Okafor. UConn was humbled on the glass, 37-30.
"I thought we did a great job on the boards because that is where Emeka gets a lot of his points," Dixon said. "We outrebounded them by seven and that is really what we wanted to do coming in."
Krauser poured in 24 points, including four 3-pointers to keep the game close. Julius Page withstood a pair of early fouls for 14 points.
Pitt's physical frontcourt of Chevy Troutman, Jaron Brown and freshman Chris Taft helped keep Okafor in check, combining for 21 rebounds and four blocks. Okafor came off a monster effort at Carolina with 29 points and 17 boards.
"The guards were trying to get me the ball, but it was very difficult this game," Okafor said. "But we ended up with a win, so I can't complain."
The Panthers took their first lead of the second half on Page's 3-pointer for a 54-52 advantage with 10:41 to go. The game featured six lead changes and a pair of ties over the final 11 minutes.