The day before they landed a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Louisville Cardinals took ownership of the hardware that goes with being crowned the winners of the inaugural American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship.
The defending national champions thumped the University of Connecticut 71-61 at the FedExForum on Saturday. It was the seventh win for Louisville in the last eight contests against the Huskies.
The Cardinals (29-5) are set to square off against 13th-seeded Manhattan (25-7) on Thursday in the Mid-West Region in Orlando, Fla. UConn (26-8) is the seventh-seed in the East Region and will play No. 10-seed Saint Joseph's (24-9) on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. at the First Niagara Center.
This time of year there is little time to savor victories. And while the Cardinals took the AAC Tourney title in stride, they were clearly please to come out on top.
"We're super excited to win our third straight championship, to win a regular season championship and a tournament championship back-to-back is not easy," said Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino.
This year marks the second consecutive season Louisville has won all of its conference tournament games by double-digit points. The Cardinals have won 12 straight post-season games and 20 of their last 21.
The win over Connecticut was solid. UConn won the battle in the paint (32-28) but managed only 13 points off 13 Cardinal turnovers. Louisville outrebounded the Huskies 38-33.
The two teams had battled each other just a week earlier, with Louisville pounding the Huskies 81-48.
"We take it one game at a time and we buy into coach's game plan," Louisville's Montrezl Harrell. "We try to focus on the defensive end because we know if we get a defensive start that's going to lead to our offensive break."
The AAC tournament's most outstanding player, Louisville guard Russ Smith, finished with 19 points and five steals. Harrell scored 20 points for the eighth time season, adding a game-high 22 points to the victory total. Chris Jones pitched in 11 points.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie held firm to his belief in his team.
"We want to win a national championship. I still believe in this team. We got to clean things up, but I like our execution in the second half and we got to show heart and compete and that's what I like. Hopefully it carries over to the NCAA Tournament
DeAndre Daniels led the Huskies with 17 points and snatched 10 rebounds. Conference player of the year Shabazz Napier year pitched in 16 points.
"The first half we didn't play as well as we should have. We didn't move the ball the right way, we didn't knock down open shots," said Napier. "We just didn't find our rhythm."