WORCESTER, Massachusetts (Ticker) -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun will take it.
Charlie Villanueva scored 14 of his 22 points and Rudy Gay 14 of his 17 in the first half as the second-seeded Huskies jumped out to a big lead and held on for a 77-71 victory over 15th seed Central Florida in the first round of the Syracuse Region.
"We played some brilliant, brilliant basketball," Calhoun said. "But we took our foot off the pedal and we couldn't find it again. I thought we lost a little bit of that joy while playing with the lead, that we took it casually. That needs to be a lesson."
The defending national champions, the Huskies (23-7) took a 47-31 lead into halftime on a 3-pointer by Villanueva at the buzzer. Connecticut led by as many as 19 points early in the second half and still held a 68-53 advantage on a three-point play by Gay with 7:01 left.
The Golden Knights (24-9) did not wilt, however, pulling within 68-62 on a pair of free throws by William Bakanowsky with 3:38 to play. After Josh Boone and Villanueva made back-to-back baskets to push the lead back to 10 points with 2:09 remaining, Central Florida reduced the deficit to 75-71 on a follow shot by Justin Rose with 11 seconds left.
But Marcus Williams sank a pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds remaining, and the Golden Knights turned the ball over before time expired.
"We weren't concerned about being down eight, 10 or 12 points for most of the game," Central Florida coach Kirk Speraw said. "We had just said we wanted to be under 10 with four minutes left. Once we got it under 10, I think our guys did start to believe we might have a chance."
The Huskies, who will face North Carolina State in the second round, shot 50 percent (29-of-58) and limited the Golden Knights to 34 percent (21-of-61).
Connecticut was especially sharp in the first half, connecting on 20 of its 32 shots.
"They hit every shot they put up in the first 15 minutes," said Central Florida guard Gary Johnson, who scored a career-high 29 points. "Coach told us that they shot 63 percent in the first half. You can't get any better than that."
Connecticut held a 43-29 rebounding advantage and outscored Central Florida in the paint, 38-20.
But the Golden Knights made a game of it because of their 3-point shooting, connecting on 11-of-28 attempts. The Huskies went just 3-of-6 from the arc.
Bakanowsky scored 15 points and Kingsley Edwards added 10 for Central Florida, which converted 13 UConn turnovers into 20 points. The Huskies scored 12 points off the Golden Knights' 10 giveaways.