U of L building on dynasty, wins AAC title

MEMPHIS - The University of Louisville men's basketball team continued a mastery of the postseason, rolling to the American Athletic Conference title. The Cardinals whipped Connecticut 71-61 in the title game, winning three games by a margin of 33.3 points.

Each season, University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino says he wants his team to be playing its best ball in the end.

Three years in a row, the Cardinals had a stretch either early or mid-season when it didn't look like that would happen.

But once again, the Cardinals are playing their best basketball and it's tournament time. U of L has now won 19 of its last 20 postseason games after ripping through the AAC Tournament this week at the FedEx Forum.

"He just preaches it and preaches it," senior Stephan Van Treese said. "He has us focused and he has us ready to win in March."

Louisville lost in the Final Four two years ago, won the NCAA title last season and is looking primed to make another run this time around as the Cardinals are 29-5. The NCAA selection show is on Sunday night.

"I think its a system of recruiting the right players," Pitino said. "We know we can lose, we respect everybody. We are a humble group. These guys buy into the name on the front."

It was the third straight conference title for U of L, which won the Big East two years in a row before it became the AAC. The Cardinals have won 12 of their past 13 games this season.

And in the tournament, it wasn't even close. U of L beat Rutgers by 61 points on Thursday, decked Houston by 29 on Friday and the UConn game was 10 points but wasn't that close.

"We're playing good ball," MVP Russ Smith said. "When we play like we have been playing, we can be tough. We know we can beat anybody."

In the AAC tournament, U of L led for 115.25 of 120 minutes and won all of the conference tournament games by double digits for a second consecutive season.

Montrezl Harrell led the way against UConn with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Russ Smith had 19 points, five steals and three assists.

Smith, who had 42 in the semifinals, was named MVP of the Tournament. He tied Peyton Siva's all-time steals record at U of L with 254.

"Now I know how Peyton feels," Smith said with a smile, pointing to the MVP trophy.

In the end, the Cardinals didn't cut the nets down again this season. Last year, they waited until the Final Four

"I walked right by them, no way," Luke Hancock said of the ladder waiting for the Cardinals to use to snip the nets. Added Smith: "We have bigger goals."

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