Men's Basketball Notebook: UConn dominated by Louisville once again in tournament final loss
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - For the seventh time in eight tries, the UConn men's basketball team failed to get the "monkey" that is Louisville off its back, falling 71-61 to the Cardinals Saturday night in the American Athletic Conference Tournament final at the FedExForum.
Behind Montrezl Harrell's 22 points and tournament's Most Outstanding Player Russ Smith's 19, Louisville topped UConn for the second time in one week en route to capturing its third consecutive conference tournament championship.
"Louisville is playing really good basketball," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "They've been here. They won the championship last year and went to the Final Four the year before and got pretty much their whole team back. They are an experienced bunch. They play hard and they are well-coached."
Louisville has been dominant during the tournament, outscoring its opponents by an average of 33.3 points in its three tournament games while trailed for only 27 seconds in 120 minutes of action.
The Cardinals have also won 10 consecutive conference tournament games, and four conference tournament titles in the past six seasons.
For a UConn squad that has lost just eight games all season, only three have been of double figures, all of which were at the hands of Louisville.
The last time the Huskies beat the Cardinals was on March 12, 2011 in the Big East Tournament final. Shabazz Napier was a freshman on that year's team. Since then, Louisville has given UConn fits, especially with their defense.
"They play the zone, and zone is definitely tough," said Napier, who had 16 points in the contest. "They're not going to man up, they kind of pack everything in. Guys just glue to myself and Niels [Giffey] and [Ryan Boatright] when we are off the ball. They definitely play good defense so it's tough."
The Huskies dug themselves into a 14-point hold at halftime, but showed some encouraging signs in the second half by outscoring the Cardinals 38-34 while cutting their number of turnovers down to four as opposed to the nine in the first half.
UConn also held Louisville to just nine field goals after the break while dishing out six more assists than the four the team had in the first.
"I liked how we responded in the second half, just with the ball movement," Ollie said. "Getting Amida [Brimah] going, he had 14 points. DeAndre [Daniels] (17 points) started establishing himself... That's how you beat the zone, you get to high post and you make plays."
When UConn will get another crack at the Cardinals is anyone's guess, as Louisville will depart for the Atlantic Coastal Conference next season. The Huskies, however, have only one focus at the moment, and that is the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm definitely happy," said Napier on Selection Sunday, an event the team has not experienced in two years. "It's a great feeling to hopefully seeing your name getting called, and we have a chance to hopefully hoist another trophy."
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