Men's Basketball: UConn kicks off AAC tournament against Memphis
MEMPHIS - The UConn men's basketball team's 81-48 loss at Louisville to end the regular season Saturday was about as bad as the Huskies have played in the last several years.
Despite ending the regular season in such a demoralizing way, the No. 21 Huskies (24-7, 12-6) must now turn their gaze towards their new season, the one that begins late Thursday night, when UConn, the No. 4 seed in the American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship, takes on No. 19 Memphis, the No. 5 seed in the tournament, in the quarterfinals.
"It's a new day," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said Monday before the team flew to Memphis. "It's the fourth quarter now. It's our fourth season. We had the preseason. We had the out-of-conference and the conference. Now this is our fourth season. Everybody is 0-0 and we're going to go out there and play."
UConn, playing its first postseason game since a loss to Iowa State in the first round of the 2012 NCAA tournament, has won seven of its last 10 games entering the inaugural American championship, with its only losses in that stretch coming against No 5 Louisville, No. 25 SMU and No. 13 Cincinnati.
The Huskies are 1-5 against those three teams overall this season, but they do boast four wins against teams in the RPI Top 50, including two against Memphis.
"We won some great games this season, and there's no reason not to believe," Ollie said. "I think these guys have got the mindset to think they can get it done. Win three in a row against three great teams. But first and foremost, we've got to take care of Memphis. They are a great team and playing outstanding basketball the last couple of weeks. ... I like our chances."
DeAndre Daniels was 9 of 15 from the field with 23 points and 11 rebounds the first time the Huskies and Tigers met, an 83-73 win for UConn at the FedExForum, the site of the AAC tournament.
The second meeting had the feel of March in February. The wild, fast-paced affair required overtime, and led by 34 points from Shabazz Napier and 21 from Ryan Boatright, the Huskies prevailed, beating the then-No. 20 Tigers 86-81.
Because of the size of the Big East Conference, UConn did not regularly play teams three times in a season, but in the 10-team AAC, every game in this tournament would be the third against a conference opponent. The last time UConn faced an opponent three times in a season was Louisville during the 2010-11 season. After losing to the Cardinals twice in the regular season, the Huskies beat them to win the Big East tournament.
"It's tough," said Shabazz Napier, who on Wednesday was announced as the conference Player of the Year. "It's always tough beating a team three times in a row. That doesn't make it easier for us. The (regular) season is over and now it's the postseason. We're both 0-0 in win and loss columns. So we're just going to go out there with a mindset that they are a whole different team from when we played them."
Napier was also a unanimous selection to the All-AAC First Team, and freshman center Amida Brimah was named to the All-Rookie Team. Memphis' Joe Jackson and Shaq Goodwin were named to the Second Team, and Austin Nichols was the only unanimous selection to the All-Rookie Team.
At Wednesday's awards luncheon, Nichols was announced as the conference Rookie of the Year, and Tigers' guard Michael Dixon, Jr. was named the Sixth Man of the Year.
Like UConn, the Tigers (23-8, 12-6) enter the postseason having won seven of their last 10. Memphis is 4-2 since losing to UConn on Feb. 15.
Thursday's game is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. and will air on ESPNU.
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