March 9, 2009

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - For the second straight year, Louisville and Connecticut will meet in the Big East championship game.

The fifth-ranked Cardinals aren't scared of the big, bad Huskies, even after losing to the No. 1 team in the country by 35 points earlier this season.

"This is a great opportunity," Louisville star Angel McCoughtry said. "UConn is a very, very good team. We're going to come out and play our best."

McCoughtry scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to help No. 5 Louisville (29-3) hold off 14th-ranked Pittsburgh 69-63 on Monday night setting up the championship rematch.

The unbeaten Huskies routed Villanova 72-42 in the other semifinal.

"It's going to be a battle for us," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "We're going to play hard. I'm excited for these kids, how they are playing down the stretch."

It's only the third meeting between the top two seeds in the Big East tournament in the last 11 years. The No. 2 seeds won both the previous meetings.

Trailing 63-62 with 1:40 left, McCoughtry's three-point play gave Louisville a two-point edge with 1:12 left.

"We knew we could get a basket," McCoughtry said. "Coach is a genius and he called the right play and we got the and-one."

After a turnover by Xenia Stewart, McCoughtry hit a pull-up jumper from the wing with 23.5 seconds remaining to make it 67-63.

Deseree Byrd hit two free throws for the final margin.

It was the second straight game that came down to the end for Louisville. The Cardinals beat Rutgers in double overtime in the quarterfinals. McCoughtry had seven points in the second overtime to secure the win.

"No, I don't live for these moments," McCoughtry said laughing. "I'd much rather blow people out."

Shavonte Zellous scored 24 points to lead Pittsburgh (23-7).

"We fought back and went ahead and I thought we were going to win the game," Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said. "In the second half we played really, really well."

Trailing by 10 at the break, Pittsburgh rallied to within one behind Zellous. She scored seven points as the Panthers opened the second half with a 14-4 run to cut the deficit to 46-45.

McCoughtry and Louisville answered scoring the next eight points to make it 54-45 with 11:06 left in the game.

Pitt wasn't done, going on a 18-8 burst to take a 63-62 lead - its first lead since early in the first half. Pepper Wilson, who had a career-high 16 points, hit back-to-back layups to cap the run and give the Panthers the edge.

"They are the No. 5 team in the country and it gives us a lot of confidence we can compete with any team in the country," Wilson said. "We can use it as motivation for the NCAA tournament."

It was the 19th time in her career that McCoughtry has scored 30 points or more in a game.

Last season, the Cardinals were a seven-seed and upset Rutgers in the quarterfinals before beating West Virginia in the semis. Louisville gave Connecticut all it could handle losing 65-59 in the championship.

Buoyed by that strong finish, and with most of the team returning, Louisville was expected to challenge Connecticut in the Big East regular season. However when the Cardinals went up to Storrs in late January, the Huskies routed them 93-58.

Louisville was the second-seed this year in the tournament and had a bye until the quarterfinals.

Third-seeded Pittsburgh made it to this round by edging DePaul 62-59 on Sunday night. Pitt faced Louisville on Feb 28 at the Cardinals senior day. Louisville won 75-51 as Candyce Bingham scored 26 points.

She only had 11 in the semis.

In the first half Monday, Louisville struggled early on and was trailing 14-13 before going on a 12-2 run to take a 25-16 advantage. McCoughtry had six points during the burst.

Pittsburgh then scored six straight to make it a three-point game. But Louisville rebuilt its double-digit margin rattling off 11 of the next 12 points and led 41-31 at the half.