HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Cincinnati's quest for an American Athletic Conference title ended in each of the league's first three years with a loss in the tournament to UConn.
Not this time.
Gary Clark scored 25 points to lead the 15th-ranked Bearcats to an 81-71 win over the Huskies in the AAC semifinals on Saturday night.
Jacob Evans added 21 points and Troy Caupain had 18 for Cincinnati (29-4), which will play in their first American championship game on Sunday against No. 12 SMU.
Caupain, a senior, said he was happy to finally get over the Husky hump.
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"Individually, it's exciting, something to talk about with my family or something," he said. "I'm glad we got the win. We had a great year. Don't stop now."
Jalen Adams scored 20 points and Christian Vital had 18 for UConn. The Huskies finish their season 16-17, their first losing campaign in 30 years.
It was a typically chippy game between the teams, whose rivalry dates to the old Big East. They combined for 56 fouls, 32 committed by UConn.
Cincinnati was 38 of 46 from the foul line. UConn made 20 of its 25 free throw attempts.
"Any foul needs to be called," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "If it's a foul, it's a foul. You always have a choice: don't foul."
UConn cut a 12-point halftime lead to two on a 3-pointer by Rodney Purvis with just over 13 minutes to go, but that was as close as the Huskies would get in the second half.
Evans, who made all three of his shots from behind the arc, hit one from the left wing that stretched it back to 65-55 with 5 minutes left.
Five UConn players finished with four fouls, and seniors Kentan Facey and Purvis fouled out.
Facey was first to go, leaving the game with 3 ½ minutes left and UConn down 65-60.
A minute later, it was 70-60 after a pull-up jumper from Clark.
UConn made one final run, cutting the lead to 76-71 on a three-point play by Vital. But the Bearcats scored the final five from the foul line.
"I think we did the best that we could as far as the foul trouble and the different things of that nature," Purvis said. Of course, I can sit up here and say I felt we played good defense and we somehow fouled, so I don't know. But the game is over with."
The Huskies, who normally play seven, saw Facey and Adams each pick up three fouls in the game's first 11 minutes.
Adams' third, on a steal attempt, put Cincinnati in the double bonus with almost eight minutes still to play before intermission. With the sophomore out of the game, the Bearcats scored 20 of the half's final 28 points. They led by as many as 14 went into the break with a 41-29 lead.
Kyle Washington, who had 21 points for the Bearcats in their quarterfinal win over Tulsa on Friday was held scoreless, and was one of three Bearcats with four fouls.
Cincinnati has not won a conference title since winning Conference USA in 2004.
UConn, which lost three players early in the season to injury, has eight of its top 11 players eligible to come back next season.
The teams set tournament records for most combined fouls (56), most fouls on one team (32), most free throws attempted (71), attempted by one team (46), made by a team (38), as well as attempted and made by an individual (Clark was 15 of 16 from the line).
Cincinnati's 29 wins are the most under coach Mick Cronin and tied for the second most in school history. Bob Huggins went 31-4 in 2001-02.
UConn hadn't finished with a losing record since Jim Calhoun's first Husky team went 9-19 in 1986-87.
"I think adversity always helps," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "It's just part of life. You've got to fail to succeed most of the time. So, we're looking at it as a disappointment, a moment in our career, my career to get better from. You build off of it."
The Bearcats were the last team to beat the Mustangs, who have won 15 straight since that 66-64 loss on Jan. 12.
The Huskies have plenty of time to heal for next season.
Follow Pat Eaton-Robb on Twitter @peatonrobb