Memphis, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Louisville's one-year stop in the American Athletic Conference ended with a tournament title.
Montrezl Harrell scored 22 points, Russ Smith had 19 and the fifth-ranked Cardinals rolled to a 71-61 win over No. 21 Connecticut in the conference's first-ever championship game Saturday.
Chris Jones added 11 points and Harrell pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for the Cardinals (29-5), who pushed their winning streak to five games going into the NCAA Tournament.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino caused a stir on social media after saying in a post-game interview with ESPN that he thought his team would get a No. 1 seed.
The defending national-champion Cardinals aren't seen as likely to get one of the four tops seeds when the brackets are announced Sunday and Pitino walked back the comments in his post-game news conference.
"Do I think we should be (a No. 1)? Yes. Do I think we will be? No," Pitino said. "That being said, if you ask me who is the best college basketball player in America, I would say Russ Smith. If you ask me who is the best power forward I would say Montrezl Harrell.
"So I have an extremely biased opinion, but I'm impressed with our guys and what they have done to win a regular season, the conference tournament. The way we have done it in the fashion we have done it fits the eye test."
DeAndre Daniels had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Connecticut (26-8) while Shabazz Napier scored 16 and Amida Brimah added 14 points.
Louisville won the Big East Tournament three times in the last five seasons it played in the conference, including the final two, and will move on to the ACC next season.
The Cardinals beat UConn for the third time this season, including an 81-48 rout on March 8.
The fourth-seeded Huskies knocked off top-seeded Cincinnati in Friday's semifinals and had won five of their last six coming in, but trailed by as many as 20 points three times against the second-seeded Cardinals.
Louisville had a 37-23 lead at halftime behind 10 points apiece from Smith and Harrell.
"Anytime you spot a team like Louisville 14 points it's hard to come back," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
Wayne Blackshear's 3-pointer gave Louisville a 12-8 lead seven minutes into the game. The Cardinals stretched their advantage to double digits on a Terry Rozier three with two minutes remaining, part of a 12-4 burst to end the half.
They took their first 20-point lead on Jones' 3-pointer to make it 48-28 with 15 1/2 minutes remaining.
Later, the Huskies chewed into a 19-point deficit with a quick 6-0 burst. Daniels' dunk got them within 62-49 with five minutes left but they never got closer than the final margin.
Louisville was the No. 2 seed because Cincinnati won a coin flip for the No. 1 spot. The teams both went 15-3 in league play ... UConn out-shot the Cardinals 44.4 percent to 41 percent ... Smith was named Most Outstanding player of the tournament.