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Cardinals eye AAC crown in clash with Huskies

10:28 AM, Mar 8, 2014   |    comments
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Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - With the inaugural American Athletic Conference title hinging on the outcome, the 19th-ranked Connecticut Huskies pay a visit to the 11th-ranked Louisville Cardinals in the regular-season finale for both teams on Saturday afternoon.

UConn has won three straight and seven of its last eight games, and while the team's 24-6 overall record, which includes a 12-5 league ledger in impressive, it won't be enough to earn the Huskies the AAC regular-season title. Still, the team has achieved quite a bit in Kevin Ollie's second season at the helm, and it is hopeful of making a lengthy run in both the upcoming conference and NCAA Tournaments.

Louisville will earn at least a share of the American crown with a win today, and would capture it outright with a win and a Cincinnati loss (vs. Rutgers). The Cardinals handed SMU its first home defeat of the season on Wednesday, bouncing back from a 72-66 setback at Memphis last Saturday.

The Cardinals beat the Huskies earlier this season, 76-64, to take a 9-6 lead in the all-time series.

Connecticut is fortunate to have the AAC's second-leading scorer on the roster, as Shabazz Napier is averaging 18.1 ppg thanks in large part to his outstanding 42.5 percent shooting effort from 3-point range. Support comes from Ryan Boatright (12.2 ppg) and DeAndre Daniels (12.1 ppg), and the team as a whole in converting 45.1 percent of its field goal attempts, 39.4 percent of its long-range launches, and 76.7 percent of its free throws -- the latter two figures leading the conference heading into this finale. The Huskies' defensive effort has been on point for much of the season as well, with foes shooting just 38.9 percent from the floor in putting up only 62.8 ppg.

Napier hit a career-best seven 3-pointers in tallying 26 points in the final home game of his collegiate career, leading UConn to a 69-63 win over Rutgers on Wednesday night. Niels Giffey added a career-best 16 points for the Huskies, who made good on 47.2 percent of their total shots, including a 12- of-25 showing from beyond the arc.

Louisville is the highest-scoring team in the AAC, lighting it up for 81.8 ppg on typical shooting efforts of .476 overall, .371 from long range, and .655 from the charity stripe. The Cardinals boast considerable margins in both scoring (+19.5) and turnovers (+6.8), the former of which is the top figure in all of Division I, and the latter has the club ranked second. Russ Smith sits atop the team's scoring chart, and he ranks third in the conference in netting 18.0 ppg. Assistance comes from Montrezl Harrell (13.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg), who has logged seven double-doubles in his last 15 games. Smith needs just 24 points to reach 1,800 for his career. UofL's two other double-digit scorers are Luke Hancock (11.8 ppg) and Chris Jones (10.3 ppg).

All four double-digit scorers played a key role in the recent win over SMU, as Louisville nailed 13-of-23 3-point attempts to keep its hopes for a possible AAC title alive. Smith tallied 26 points, Jones 21, Harrell 19 and Hancock 15 for the Cardinals, who shot 46.4 percent from the floor while allowing the Mustangs a 51.1 percent effort. UofL scored 25 points off SMU's 23 turnovers.

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