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Memphis, Tenn. — Backcourt partners Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright sat on the bench during warmups before the start of the second half on Saturday.
They blankly stared straight ahead not saying a word while their UConn teammates went through their drills.
Frustration already had set in with the Huskies.
A dismal last three-plus minutes of the first half put them in an impossible position, trailing a scorching-hot Louisville by 14 points at the break.
Saturday's American Athletic Conference Championship game was essentially lost just before halftime. The Huskies never climbed closer than the final score, 71-61, the rest of the way.
"It dug us a hole down deep," Boatright said. "We could have gone into the half down seven, and it's a totally different game. We went down 14."
Turnovers hurt the Huskies in those crucial final minutes when Louisville closed the half on a 10-2 spurt.
Playing a match-up zone, the Cardinals trapped Boatright up top, forcing the guard to toss up an air ball, leading to a shot clock violation. Luke Hancock buried a 3-pointer on the other end.
Russ Smith stole the ball from Napier, setting up Terry Rozier's fastbreak layup before the buzzer.
A demoralized UConn faced a 37-23 deficit at the break. Louisville had delivered one of its flash knockout punches.
UConn will learn its NCAA tournament destination tonight during the Selection Sunday show. Last year a postseason ban prevented the Huskies from playing.
The Huskies (26-8) are a lock to receive an at-large bid. Most projections put them as a fifth seed. They'll be making their third trip to the NCAA tournament in four years.
"I'm definitely happy," Napier said. "It's a great thing to hopefully see your name being called with your teammates and everybody smiling and knowing that we have a chance at hoisting another trophy."
The AAC will likely receive five bids. Louisville earned the automatic berth while SMU, Memphis and Cincinnati are in line for at-large spots.
"We had such a good season and if we do in fact get five teams - that seems to be the bracketologists' predictions - we'll be pretty happy with that," AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said.
News and notes
Napier was UConn's lone representative on the all-tournament team. Louisville's Russ Smith, who averaged 25.7 points in three games, was voted the most outstanding player. Other all-tourney team members: Louisville's Chris Jones and Montrezl Harrell, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick and Central Florida's Isaiah Sykes. … … UConn has lost nine of the last 10 meetings in the series, including seven by double figures. It may be awhile before the two teams play again with Louisville moving to the ACC next season. … Napier tied Kevin Ollie on the school's all-time assist list at 619. … The defending national champion Cardinals have won 20 of their last 21 postseason games.