(21) Connecticut (26-7) vs. (5) Louisville (28-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 15, 6 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: FedExForum (18,119) -- Memphis, Tennessee. Television: ESPN. Home Record: UConn 15-3, Louisville 16-2. Away Record: UConn 6-4, Louisville 9-2. Neutral Record: UConn 5-0, Louisville 3-1. Conference Record: UConn 12-6, Louisville 15-3. Series Record: Louisville leads, 10-6.
GAME NOTES: The second-seeded Louisville Cardinals go after their third straight conference title when they meet the fourth-seeded Connecticut Huskies in the American Athletic Conference Tournament title game at FedExForum.
With this being the inaugural year for the AAC, Louisville has obviously never won the crown in this league, but it won back-to-back titles in the Big East in the previous two seasons. The Cardinals, who are the defending national champions as well, have routed their first two foes in this event, and won 11 of their last 12 games overall.
UConn also came over from the Big East and won that league's tournament title in 2011, prior to the two-year run for Louisville. The Huskies were ineligible for postseason play a year ago, but have made quite a splash in their return, pushing their way into this contest with back-to-back wins over Memphis and top-seeded Cincinnati.
These teams met just a week ago in the regular-season finale. That contest was all Louisville, as the Cardinals rolled to an 81-48 victory to sweep the seasons series and improve to 10-6 all-time against UConn.
Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick missed a driving layup in the final seconds, as UConn escaped with a 58-56 win over the Bearcats on Friday. The key stretch was a 17-2 run from the Huskies during the latter half of the second period, which gave them enough of an edge to hold on for the win.
Shabazz Napier (17.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 5 apg) is the primary scorer and ball- handler for the Huskies, as he leads the way in scoring, rebounding and assists. He was rewarded for his efforts this season when he was named the AAC's Player of the Year. Napier gets plenty of support in the backcourt. Ryan Boatright (12 ppg, 3.5 apg) serves as an effective complement out on the wing, while Niels Giffey (8.6 ppg) sinks 53 percent of his 3-point attempts. DeAndre Daniels (12.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is the primary threat on the interior.
Paced by a career-high 42 points from Russ Smith, the Cardinals pounded Houston in the semifinals, 94-65. Louisville connected on an even 50 percent from the floor, including 10-of-24 from 3-point range, while forcing 16 turnovers and committing only six.
Smith (18.2 ppg, 4.7 apg) is extremely dangerous as a scorer, finding ways to get shots off from all over the court. He was an important piece of last year's national title run and has excelled this season, ranking fourth in the AAC in scoring and third in assists, showing great strides in sharing the ball. Montrezl Harrell (13.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg) has been dominating opposing teams in the paint all season, hitting a league-best 61.3 percent of his shots from the floor. The talent-rich squad, which leads the league in scoring (82.5 ppg), also gets plenty of help from Luke Hancock (11.9 pg) and Jones (10.3 ppg). The Cardinals are much more than an offensive juggernaut, however, limiting teams to 61 ppg on just 39.2 percent field goal efficiency.
The Cardinals are playing their best basketball at the perfect time yet again. UConn won't be as easy to beat as their first two foes, but expect the Cardinals to be cutting down the nets yet again.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisville 71, Connecticut 64
03/15 10:40:22 ET