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Pre-AAC tournament game preview: Memphis

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: theday.com

Published March 13. 2014 5:00PM   Updated March 13. 2014 8:19PM

It seems strange not to be at Madison Square Garden in New York this week for conference tournament play.

Sadly, those Big East days are over.

No matter the location, UConn's mission remains the same: win a conference tournament title.

The Huskies begin their pursuit of a title tonight against host Memphis in American Athletic Conference Championship quarterfinal action at FedExForum.

"This will be a great challenge," coach Kevin Ollie said. "I'm looking forward to it, but Memphis is a great team. It's a big obstacle."

During the afternoon session today, Louisville and Houston both won and advanced to Friday's semifinals.

Louisville crushed Rutgers, 92-31, and Houston upset SMU, 68-64.

Here's a pre-game preview:

-- Tip-off: approximately 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

-- Records: No. 21 UConn 24-7, No. 19Memphis 23-8

-- Last game: UConn lost at Louisville, 81-48, Saturday; Memphis beat SMU, 67-58, Saturday

-- Probable starters:

UConn: 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (17.8 pts, 5.2 assists, 6.0 rebs), 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.0 pts), 6-6 grad. forward Lasan Kromah (7.0 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (12.3 pts, 5.6 rebs), 7-0 fr. center Amida Brimah (4.0 pts, 2.8 rebs, 2.4 blks)

Memphis: 6-1 sr. guard Joe Jackson (14.4 pts, 4.6 assists), 6-3 sr. guard Geron Johnson (9.0 pts, 4.9 rebs), 6-4 sr. guard Chris Crawford (8.9 pts, 4.0 rebs), 6-8 fr. forward Austin Nichols (9.3 pts. 4.3 rebs), 6-9 so. forward Shaq Goodwin (11.9 pts, 6.6 rebs)

Noteworthy:

-- UConn is the four seed, Memphis No. 5.

This is the first post-season game for Huskies since 2012.

-- The Huskies are 27-10 all-time in conference tourney play when seeded better than opponent.

-- In their last nine conference post-season tournaments, the Tigers are 24-2 with seven titles. They've won 15 straight at home.

-- Series: UConn leads 2-1, sweeping both regular season meetings, 83-73 at Memphis and 86-81 (OT) in Hartford. Napier averaged 25.5 points in those two games and Tigers scored half of their points in the paint.

The fact that the Huskies won both regular season games won't help them tonight, according to Ollie.

"The regular season is over with," Ollie said. "This is a whole new ball game. We're just trying to get one victory and just keep moving on to Friday."

-- UConn hasn't defeated a team three times in a season since sweeping Georgetown in 2004-05.

-- Top reserve: 6-1 sr. guard Michael Dixon Jr. (12.2 pts). Dixon won the AAC sixth man award.

-- Hot: Senior Niels Giffey is on pace to set school single season record for 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 50 percent. Cold: Huskies are averaging 56.8 pts and 36 percent from field in last five games.

-- The Tigers are 15-2 at home this season, winning nine straight since losing to UConn on Jan. 16.

-- Napier needs nine assists to pass Kevin Ollie and move into third on UConn career list and six points to take over sixth on scoring list. He needs six points to take over sixth on the all-time scoring list.

-- A loss tonight wouldn't knock either UConn or Memphis out of NCAA tournament contention.

Ollie wants his team to focus on the conference tournament and not seeding in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

"Let's take care of the tournament first," Ollie said. "Then we'll worry about (seeding) on Selection Sunday. But we've got to take care of this tournament. It's a great time of the year. I want these guys to understand that it expires, too."

-- Tonight's winner advances to Friday's semifinal, facing with the Cincinnati/Central Florida winner.

-- Check back later for a post-game breakdown and video.

-- For regular updates, follow me on Twitter @GavinKeefe

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