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Men's Basketball: UConn falls to Louisville in American title game

By Tim Fontenault
On March 15, 2014

MEMPHIS - It was a vast improvement over last Saturday's 33-point defeat, but the UConn men's basketball team still could not stop Louisville.

An 8-2 Cardinals run in the final two minutes of the first half put the Huskies in a 14-point hole at halftime, and they could not recover, eventually falling 71-61 in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game.

Louisville has now beaten UConn in nine of their last 10 meetings, with the Huskies' lone win coming in the 2011 Big East Championship Game.

The Cardinals' held UConn to 10 of 26 shooting in the first half (38.5 percent), but the Huskies were able to hang with them, with Louisville never getting ahead by more than eight points in the first 18 minutes, despite their stingy zone defense.

"The zone is definitely tough," UConn guard Shabazz Napier said. "They're not going to man up; they kind of pack everything in. Guys is just glued to myself and Niels (Giffey) and (Ryan Boatright), and they run me off the ball. They definitely play great defense. It's tough."

With two minutes to go before halftime, AAC All-Rookie Team selection Terry Rozier drilled a 3-pointer to put Louisville up by 11. Ryan Boatright got it down to nine on a short-range jumper 20 seconds later, but UConn shot itself in the foot with turnovers.

UConn lost the ball with 48 seconds left that went the other way for a 3-pointer from Luke Hancock. Russ Smith then caught Napier napping as UConn held for the last shot. Smith picked Napier's pocket, and Rozier brought the ball down for a layup to send the Cardinals into the break with a 37-23 lead.

"It dug us a hole that was deep," Boatright said. "We could have went down into the half down seven - five or seven. It's a totally different game. We went down 14, and like I said, we dug ourselves a hole that was too deep to get out of."

In the second half, UConn showed significant improvement, shooting 50 percent against the Cardinals' zone and holding Louisville to 32.1 percent while winning the half 38-34. The zone, which for so long has been UConn's enemy, did not seem to bother them as much.

"I think we're better at playing zone than we've been in the past, especially last year," Boatright said. "The second half, we showed it very well. We broke the zone down well in the second half. We just dug ourselves a hole too deep to dig out of."

But the combined duo of Smith, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, and Montrezl Harrell, who joined Napier and teammate Chris Jones on the All-Tournament Team, was too much for UConn. Harrell posted a double-double with 22 points and 11 assists while Smith finished with 19 points and five steals. Jones added 11 points.

Smith finished with the most points of any player in the tournament, accumulating 77 over three games.

"We can't allow ourselves to give that kind of a team that many points and expect to get even close to winning," Napier said. "They're a good team. They've got some players and they've definitely got a great coach, so we can't do that anymore."

UConn will now wait to hear its name called for the NCAA Tournament Sunday night. At that point, the Huskies will begin their attempt at a fourth national championship either Thursday or Friday at a yet-to-be-determined location.

The Huskies, banned from the postseason in 2013, have not played an NCAA Tournament game since March 15, 2012, a 77-64 loss to Iowa State in the first round. UConn's last win was on April 4, 2011 in the National Championship Game against Butler.

"I'm definitely happy," Napier said, one of three remaining players from the last national title and one of five from the last tournament appearance. "It's a great feeling to hopefully see your name being called and with your teammates and see everybody smiling and knowing that we have a chance at hoisting another trophy.

"But I haven't thought about it because I was thinking about the games ahead of myself. Now, since we just finished this one, you know, we have time to look at it." 

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