MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Connecticut was much better one week later — just not good enough to topple Louisville.
The 21st-ranked Huskies never really threatened in the second half of a 71-61 loss to the No. 5 Cardinals on Saturday night in the championship game of the inaugural American Athletic Conference tournament.
Connecticut (26-8) had won five of six, but the lone loss was an 81-48 rout by Louisville in regular-season finale. The Huskies stayed in the game this time, but were never able to put together enough of a charge to worry the Cardinals. The 10-point deficit at the end was as close as the Huskies got in the second half.
"There's always room for improvement," said UConn guard Shabazz Napier, the conference player of the year. "After you lose by 30 points, you've got to look at yourself and figure out how you can help the team."
DeAndre Daniels led the Huskies with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Amida Brimah finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks. Napier had 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
It was Connecticut's third loss in three games this season against Louisville, all by double digits.
Montrezl Harrell had 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks as Louisville clinched its 40th NCAA tournament berth. Russ Smith, named the tournament's most outstanding player, had 19 points and five steals for the defending national champions, and Chris Jones added 11 points.
The Huskies came to Memphis looking for an eighth tournament title to go with seven from the Big East. Barred from postseason play a year ago, UConn is a virtual lock to return to the NCAA tournament this year.
"We didn't come down here just to win a semifinals game, we came down here to win a championship," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "It didn't happen. But I think our guys gave it their all, and they played with their heart, and that's all I can ask of these guys each and every day."
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 and enjoyed a 14-6 advantage on second-chance points.
The Cardinals (29-5) 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.
"Anytime you spot a team like Louisville 14 points, it's hard to come back," Ollie said.
The Huskies shot 50 percent in the second half and outscored Louisville 38-34. But it took a 6-1 push in the last 2:19 to turn a 15-point deficit into a 10-point final.
"We felt good about how we battled in the second half," Daniels said. "We played the right way, and shared the ball and played UConn basketball.
"Now it's just time to move forward and put it behind us and prepare for the NCAA tournament."