UConn-Louisville Preview

UConn-Louisville Preview

Published Mar. 15, 2014 1:26 a.m. ET

Louisville is in a conference title game for the fourth straight year.

The defending national champions only dropped the first contest of that run when they fell to Connecticut.

The fifth-ranked Cardinals have otherwise dominated the No. 21 Huskies in recent matchups including a blowout victory one week ago entering Saturday evening's American Athletic Conference championship at the FedExForum.

Louisville (28-5) is playing the kind of basketball it displayed the last two postseasons.


The Cardinals won four straight games to capture the 2012 Big East tournament title en route to a Final Four loss to eventual national champion Kentucky. Last year's Big East crown was part of a 16-game win streak that closed the season, and Louisville won its three conference tournament games by an average victory margin of 16.0 points.

Rick Pitino's club has been even more dominant in this event in its lone season in this fledgling conference before the Cardinals move to the ACC. Louisville crushed Rutgers 92-31 on Thursday and routed Houston 94-65 in Friday's semifinals.

"The great thing about these guys is they play every team with great respect and that's why they haven't been upset this year because the teams they lost to are all good opponents and they play Houston as if they're UCLA," Pitino said. "They play Rutgers as if they're Kentucky."

Connecticut (26-7) was the last team to defeat Louisville in a conference tournament, winning 69-66 in the 2011 Big East title game en route to its third national title.

The Huskies, however, are also familiar with the feeling of being blown out by the Cardinals after losing 81-48 last Saturday on the road. It marked Connecticut's eighth straight regular-season loss in the series.

The last meeting marked the final home game for Russ Smith, who handed out a career-high 13 assists, took only two shots and scored a season-low three points - perhaps influenced by the nine NBA scouts in attendance who no doubt want to see him develop as a distributor.

Smith was back to being the 'Russ-diculous' scorer he is known as Friday. He scored 42 points, falling three shy of the school record.

''When you buy into a system that's been successful, you're going to always be successful,'' Smith said. ''I personally took that challenge to buy into a system, listen, pay attention and get better as a player. So, I'm extremely happy where I'm at.''

Smith scored 23 in a 76-64 win Jan. 18 at UConn, the Huskies' only other double-digit defeat.

The Huskies shot a season-low 13.6 percent on 3-pointers in last Saturday's loss to the Cardinals, but they have found the range in this tournament. They made 10 of 20 3-pointers in Thursday's 72-53 win over No. 19 Memphis and connected on 7 of 13 in Friday's 58-56 victory over No. 13 Cincinnati.

Niels Giffey has made 9 of his last 12 3s for UConn, which was ineligible for postseason play a year ago.

''Oh, it feels great, but it started last year when we couldn't perform in a conference tournament or go to the NCAA tournament,'' coach Kevin Ollie said. ''Those guys still played for our great university, and they stayed loyal to the program.''

Conference player of the year Shabazz Napier has 26 points in this tournament. Napier scored 30 in January against the Cardinals, but he only averages 13.1 on 32.1 percent shooting in seven career meetings.