March 14, 2014
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - University of Connecticut senior guard Shabazz Napier (Roxbury, Mass.) hit a free throw with 11.1 seconds left as No. 21 Connecticut held off 13th-ranked Cincinnati 58-56 Friday night to advance to the American Athletic Conference tournament final. The Huskies improve to 26-7 overall with the win.
UConn will play another former Big East team for the inaugural American tournament title Saturday in No. 5 Louisville, a 94-65 winner over Houston.
Cincinnati (27-6) lost to UConn for the second straight time and missed out on its second tournament final in three years.
The Bearcats had the ball and a final chance with Napier defending Sean Kilpatrick, but the Cincinnati senior missed a layup with 3 seconds left. Cincinnati couldn't get another shot off before the buzzer.
Napier finished with 15 points. UConn junior forward DeAndre Daniels (Los Angeles, Calif.) had 14 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Ryan Boatright (Aurora, Ill.) added 13, and senior forward Neils Giffey (Berlin, Germany) had 11 on 4-of-5 shooting, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range for UConn. Connecticut freshman center Amida Brimah (Accra, Ghana) had seven rebounds and four blocks, three in the second half.
Kilpatrick finished with 14 points for Cincinnati, while Justin Jackson and Jermaine Sanders had 10 each. Jackson grabbed eight rebounds. Sanders' 3 with 12.2 seconds left from the top of the key set the stage for the final thrilling seconds.
This was the tiebreaker between the teams after each won on home court this season, the last March 1 when UConn beat Cincinnati 51-45 on March 1 despite not scoring a field goal in the final 7:39. This became the sixth straight game between these teams that was decided by six or fewer points, and they've split with three each. This was their first game on a neutral court since UConn knocked the Bearcats out of the NCAA tournament on its way to the national title.
UConn shot better from 3-point range connecting on 53.8 percent (7 of 13) including 4 of 5 in the second half. Overall, the Huskies shot 44 percent. Meanwhile Cincinnati was limited to 38 percent. The big difference was at the free-throw line where UConn converted 15 of 18 with 11 of 13 coming in the second half compared to Cincinnati who went 6 of 13, hitting all two attempts in the second half.
The Huskies turned up the defense themselves and forced Cincinnati into two shot clock violations. Sanders ended a 17-2 run by UConn with a 3-pointer with 3:24 to go, the first of three he hit down the stretch.
Connecticut's game against Louisville is set for 6 p.m. ET and it can be seen on ESPN and heard on the UConn IMG Radio Network.