March 15, 2014
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell had 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks as the fifth-ranked Cardinals beat the 21st-ranked University of Connecticut men's basketball team by a 71-61 score on Saturday night in the final of the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship. The game was played before a crowd of 13,554 at the FedExForum.
Louisville, which will received the American's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship is 29-5 on the season, while UConn is 26-8 and is a certainty for an at-large bid in the NCAAs. Both teams will learn their postseason plans on Sunday with the NCAA Tournament Selection Show at 6:00 p.m. WTIC NewsTalk 1080 will have a live coverage of Selection Sunday from the Storrs campus.
The Cardinals have won three straight league tournament titles after taking the last two in the Big East, and they added their 19th overall to go with their share of the regular-season title with Cincinnati.
Guard Russ Smith, named the tournament's most outstanding player, had 19 points and five steals for Louisville, and guard Chris Jones added 11 points.
UConn came in looking for an eighth tournament title to go with seven from the Big East. Juioor forwrasd DeAndre Daniels (Los Angeles, Calif.) led the Huskies with 17 points and 10 rebounds. American Conference player of the year and senior guard Shabazz Napier (Roxbury, Mass.) had 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting and freshman forward Amida Brimah (Accra, Ghana) finished with 14.
UConn outscored Louisville 32-28 in the paint, but the Cardinals turned the Huskies' 13 turnovers into 13 points. Louisville also outrebounded the Huskies 38-33 with a 14-6 advantage on second-chance points.
The Huskies did enjoy a successful tournament as they had victories over No. 19 Memphis in the quarterfinals and No. 13 Cincinnati in the semis.
The Cardinals grabbed an early lead and controlled the action for much of the game. Harrell scored 10 points in the first half and was a blur at times, blocking Brimah twice on one possession. He also swooped in for a dunk off a Smith assist that looked more like a layup that just missed the basket short.
UConn stayed within six of the Cardinals down the stretch, but Louisville finished the half on a 10-2 run that included threes by Terry Rozier and Luke Hancock. Smith also had a steal and a pass ahead to Rozier for a fast-break layup that gave the Cardinals their biggest lead yet at 37-23 going into the break.
The Huskies tried to take advantage of Louisville's shooting woes to open the second half. The Cardinals missed their first five shots, but Harrell had big three-point play for a 45-28 lead. Louisville went up by as much as 20 several times, the last at 52-32.