Louisville takes American title in only chance
© 2016 Tampa Bay Times
MEMPHIS — Louisville was only going to have one chance to win the American Athletic Conference tournament.
One was all it needed.
Montrezl Harrell had 22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks to lead the fifth-ranked Cardinals past No. 21 Connecticut 71-61 Saturday for the inaugural American title in their lone season in the league.
The defending national champions, headed for the ACC next season, clinched their 40th NCAA Tournament berth. Coach Rick Pitino lobbied for a No. 1 seed, though he knows his Cardinals, who won their third straight conference tournament (including their final two in the Big East), likely won't get one.
"What they've done to win a regular season, conference tournament the way we have done it, in the fashion we have done it, fits the eye test," Pitino said. "I can't talk about the strength of the league. If you want to blame anybody, blame football. Don't blame us."
Russ Smith, the tournament's most outstanding player, had 19 points for second-seeded Louisville (29-5) and added five steals to tie the school's career record with 254.
DeAndre Daniels led the fourth-seeded Huskies (26-8) with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie looked ahead to a league about to lose Louisville and Rutgers and add teams such as Tulsa.
"This conference is going to be great," Ollie said.
Louisville finished the first half on a 10-2 run to take a 37-23 lead going into the break.
The Cards averaged 85.7 points in their three tournament games. The final was much closer than the first two games, in which Louisville routed Rutgers by 61 and Houston by 29.