Memphis, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Ryan Boatright and Niels Giffey guided a late Connecticut push before Sean Kilpatrick's potential game-tying layup rolled off the rim, allowing the Huskies to hold on for a 58-56 victory over Cincinnati in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
Boatright and Giffey drained two 3-pointers apiece during a 17-2 outburst that turned Connecticut's seven-point deficit into a 51-43 lead with 4 1/2 minutes remaining.
The Bearcats clawed back into the game thanks in large part to a pair of triples from Jermaine Sanders, with the second bringing Cincinnati within 57-56 with 12.2 seconds left.
Shabazz Napier then went 1-of-2 from the free throw line to leave the door open for Kilpatrick, who forced his way to the rim only to see his left- handed try roll off the iron.
Napier led 21st-ranked Connecticut (26-7) with 15 points, DeAndre Daniels donated 14 points and nine rebounds, while Boatright and Giffey netted 13 and 11 points, respectively, in the win.
"We have been through it all season and we always have fight and we never give up," Daniels said of his team playing another tight game. "Everybody has heart on this team and when it comes down to the end I put the bet on our team."
Defending national champion Louisville awaits the fourth-seeded Huskies in Saturday's first-ever AAC title game. The Cardinals cruised past Houston in Friday's first semifinal.
Kilpatrick finished with just 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting for the top-seeded Bearcats (27-6), who tied Louisville for the regular-season title but were awarded the top seed in the tourney after winning a coin flip.
"I thought UConn played extremely well. They made shots," Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin admitted. "We had defensive breakdowns that for us are inexcusable, that led to that, and that's disappointing. That's probably our biggest problem that I would have with tonight."
After Shaquille Thomas' jumper gave Cincinnati a 41-34 lead with 14 minutes left, Giffey drained a triple and Boatright buried a pair of treys around a Troy Caupain layup shortly after to give UConn a 46-43 lead with 7:52 to play.
Sanders quelled the UConn burst with a 3-pointer with just under 3 1/2 minutes left and Kilpatrick knocked down a shot from distance just over 90 seconds later to bring Cincinnati within 53-49 with 1:53 left.
Napier drilled a jumper on UConn next's touch, but Thomas threw down a dunk at the other end before Kilpatrick followed Lasan Kromah's turnover with two free throws to make it 55-53 with 41.8 ticks left.
After Boatright buried two free throws to make it a four-point game, Sanders drilled a triple from the top of the key off a nice feed from Kilpatrick to bring the Bearcats within one with 12.2 seconds remaining.
Early on, neither team led by more than five in a tightly-contested first half that found the Bearcats clinging to a 31-27 lead at the break.
Cincinnati remained in front from there until going cold from the field following Thomas' jumper with just over 14 minutes remaining.
Cincinnati outscored UConn 32-14 in the pain and 17-7 in points off turnovers ... Sanders and Justin Jackson each scored 10 for Cincinnati ...UConn shot 43.9 percent from the floor, including a red-hot 53.8 percent from long range ... UConn committed 15 turnovers, compared to just eight from Cincinnati.