Memphis and Connecticut have NCAA berths virtually wrapped up as they head into the American Athletic Conference tournament but would love a chance to boost their seeding for later this month.
The 19th-ranked Tigers will try to help their chances by earning a 10th consecutive win on their home floor in Thursday night’s quarterfinal against the last opponent to win at FedExForum, the No. 21 Huskies.
Memphis (23-8) and Connecticut (24-7) have likely done enough to reach the NCAA tournament, but neither team is projected as a top-four seed. There’s a chance that could change with an AAC tournament title.
As the host of the tournament, the Tigers would appear to have a strong chance to accomplish that feat. The Huskies, though, swept the season series and earned the first of those two wins Jan. 16 in Memphis.
DeAndre Daniels’ 23 points and 11 rebounds led the way in an 83-73 victory for UConn, which shot 57.1 percent to the Tigers’ 43.5. Memphis outshot Connecticut 54.8 percent to 39.3 percent Feb. 15 but committed 18 turnovers and forced just six in an 86-81 overtime loss on the road.
Conference player of the year Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points, and Ryan Boatright had eight of his season-best 21 in the extra period for the Huskies.
Neither player reached double figures in Saturday’s regular-season finale, an 81-48 drubbing at then-No. 11 Louisville. Daniels had 17 points in the end to UConn’s three-game win streak and its second loss in the past seven road games.
”This is the worst we could ever play. But guess what? As bad as we’ve played, we can turn it around. So, I’m not giving up on this season," coach Kevin Ollie said. "This season is not over yet, but I told them if we play like this we have two games and then everybody can go to spring break."
Memphis has alternated losses and wins in its last four games but added to its season-high home win streak Saturday with a 67-58 victory over then-No. 18 SMU. Leading scorer Joe Jackson had 15 of his 18 points in the second half to help the Tigers pull away for their 15th win in 17 home games.
"This win showed our growth as a team and showed we have a dangerous team," Jackson said. "Seeing so many different defenses over the year has prepared us for the road ahead. I was frustrated at halftime and wanted to play better for myself, and my teammates. I had to turn on an extra gear and get the game going."
Jackson, averaging 14.4 points, scored a season-high 24 on 10-of-17 shooting last month at Connecticut.
Memphis won its final three league tournaments as a member of Conference USA and claimed the 2012 championship at FedExForum. The Tigers also won four consecutive titles on that court from 2006-09.
Connecticut last won a conference tournament title in 2011 as a member of the Big East.
The winner of this game could face top-seeded and No. 13 Cincinnati in Friday’s semifinals.