Hopefully that's the last time we see Louisville this year.
The Cardinals came into today's game playing their best basketball of the season and continued to roll, beating the Huskies to win the inaugural AAC Championship before they depart for the ACC next year. After a choppy start full of whistles, Louisville settled in and slowly but surely pulled away from the Huskies on their way to a 37-23 lead at the half. Shabazz was trying to hold for the last shot of the half, but a Chris Jones steal and a layup on the other end sent UConn to the locker room with no momentum and a mostly Louisville crowd getting increasingly excited as the conference title drew near.
The Cardinals came out in the second half and did more of the same. Montrezl Harrell once again dominated the UConn big men both around the hoop and from mid-range on his way to 22 points and 11 rebounds. Harrell was named to the all-tournament team along with teammate Russ Smith (19 points, 5 steals) who won tournament most outstanding player. Up until there were about 9 minutes left in the game, the Cardinal defense was confusing the Huskies with their press and matchup zone. Most possessions featured too much dribbling 30 feet from the hoop, and resulted in a lot of contested shots that were not finding the bottom of the net. Every time UConn got a bucket, or a stop, and looked like they were creeping toward a shift in momentum, the Cardinals would hit a big shot. Like the first two games against Louisville, the frustration just wouldn't stop.
This game did have some positives for the Huskies, Amida Brimah had a nice game finishing with 14 points on 7 of 10 shooting, 7 rebounds, and featured a pretty nice baby hook shot a couple of times. He is going to be a heck of the players for the Huskies and it's hard not to see him thriving under the bright lights of tournament play. Speaking of which, DeAndre Daniels came alive for a little bit in the second half finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds, finishing his good showing in the AAC tournament. Shabazz had a sub-par shooting day going 4-12 (2-7 from three) but still finished with 16 points as he was named to the all-tournament team.
The Huskies now have to reset and focus on what really matters; the NCAA tournament. Selection Sunday is one of the most exciting days of the year as we find out where we'll be headed and what teams stand between us and a fourth banner (or fifth depending on how you count; shout out to the 1988 NIT Champs!). This is especially significant considering this is the first time we get to see our name pop up on the screen in two years. I'm confident that this team will put today's game behind them, especially with the fight we showed at the end of the game. The Cardinals are a very dangerous team and are playing their best ball and look like they deserve a two seed. Hopefully we can avoid being in Louisville's bracket, and Shabazz will realize that he needs to force the issue a little bit more when the offense sputters (especially in the first half). Even more importantly, let's hope that this is the Amida and DeAndre that we'll have moving forward (although less fouls would be just fantastic). It's going to take some more made shots (looking at you Boat), but this team has proven very capable of getting hot. With the right matchups, and a little luck, we can still do this. Optimism is key.
Enjoy Selection Sunday and best of luck in your brackets.