No. 5 Louisville beats No. 21 UConn 71-61 - NBC Sports

No. 5 Louisville beats No. 21 UConn 71-61
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Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) drives past Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament Saturday, March 15, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
March 15, 2014, 8:42 pm

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Montrezl Harrell had 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, and fifth-ranked Louisville beat No. 21 Connecticut 71-61 Saturday for the inaugural American Athletic Conference tournament title in the Cardinals' lone season in the league.

The defending national champions clinched their 40th NCAA tournament berth.

The Cardinals (29-5) 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. They will play next season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Russ Smith, named the tournament's most outstanding player, had 19 points and five steals for Louisville, and Chris Jones added 11 points.

UConn (26-8) came in looking for an eighth tournament title to go with seven from the Big East. It was barred from postseason play a year ago, but is a virtual lock to return to the NCAA tournament this year.

DeAndre Daniels led the Huskies with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Conference player of the year Shabazz Napier had 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting, and Amida Brimah 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.

Louisville routed UConn 81-48 a week ago on the Cardinals' home court. But the Huskies were a confident bunch heading into the final, coming off 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 3s 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 a couple times, the last at 52-32.

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