MEMPHIS — Shabazz Napier made a free throw with 11.1 seconds left as No. 21 Connecticut held off No. 13 Cincinnati 58-56 Friday to advance to the American Athletic Conference tournament final.
The No. 4-seeded Huskies (26-7) were barred from last season's tournament in the Big East because of academic problems but are in their first tournament final since 2011, when they won the national championship. They play another former Big East team, Louisville, for the inaugural American title tonight.
After Napier's free throw, top-seeded Cincinnati (27-6) almost sent it to overtime. But Sean Kilpatrick, guarded by Napier, saw a layup with three seconds left roll off the rim.
'Russdiculous' game puts Louisville in final
Russ Smith's biggest scoring night of his career helped No. 5 Louisville advance to the conference final.
Smith scored 42 as the Cardinals cruised to a 94-65 victory over Houston in the semifinals.
"You can't describe Russ' game. That's 'Russdiculous,' " forward Luke Hancock said of the nickname given to Smith by Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "The moves he makes and the way he gets to the places he does on the floor, the shots he gets for himself and for his teammates is unbelievable."
Smith shot 14-of-22 from the field and 5-of-7 from 3-point range. His final points came on a three-point play in which he hit a reverse layup and converted the free throw.
Smith carried the second-seeded Cardinals (28-5) from the start. He hit his first five shots and had No. 6-seeded Houston (17-16) incorrectly guessing much of the time.
"Our goal was to try and stop him before he got a head full of steam, and certainly he got a head full of steam," said Houston's Danuel House, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"As a good player should, he knocked down the 3-ball. Once his 3 got going, we started just falling for the head fakes and not guarding the way we are capable of guarding and just let him get going."