No. 11 Louisville so thoroughly dominated No. 19 Connecticut in the regular season finale Saturday, the Cardinals looked unbeatable in stretches. But just a few minutes after their 81-48 beat down was complete, the Cardinals lost the No. 1 seed in the inaugural American Athletic Conference tournament.
Louisville and Cincinnati completed the regular season tied with 15-3 records in the conference and they split the season series. So conference tie-breaking rules called for a coin flip which was conducted shortly after the final horn at the KFC Yum! Center. Cincinnati won the toss by calling heads.
It was the only thing that didn't go Louisville's way on a day that served as a reminder that when the defending national champions are focused on the defensive end, they're going to be tough for any team to knock out of the postseason.
Louisville held UConn 25 points below its season average and limited the Huskies to .294 shooting. UConn made just three of 22 3-point attempts and guard Shabazz Napier, a player who is expected to be a first-team selection on a lot of All American teams, was limited to nine points on 2-for-13 shooting.
There probably isn't a more locked in guard-big man combination in the nation heading into the postseason than Louisville's Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell. Just a few days after scoring 22 points in 10 minutes to lead his team to a win over No. 18 SMU, Smith dished a career-best 13 assists in the final home game of his career and Harrell added 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Smith handed out three of those assists in the opening minutes of the game, with two going to fellow seniors Luke Hancock and Tim Henderson en route to a 10-2 lead.
CBS announcer Bill Rafftery allowed Smith, a communications major, to conduct part of the postgame interview with Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Smith asked Pitino about winning conference championships in different conferences in 2013 and 2014. Pitino said, 'It's awesome.' and then turned his focuse on Smith.
"I never thought I'd see the day, on senior night when you would go out there and try to score 40 points, and you have 13 assists and not care about scoring," Pitino said. "So if the professional teams are wondering whether you're a point guard, all 30 teams just found out tonight."
While Louisville lost the coin flip to decide the No. 1 seed in the AAU tournament next week, it might have been fortunate to do so. It will start the tournament against either South Florida or Rutgers and won't have to face Cincinnati, Memphis or a rematch with UConn until at least the semifinals.
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