Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick, UConn's Shabazz Napier hold key to American Athletic Conference semi

As All-America guards go, so go their teams

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Clear the way and watch them play.

It will be the Conference Player of the Year against the would-be Conference Player of the Year when No. 21 Connecticut and No. 13 Cincinnati meet in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals Friday night (9 p.m. EDT, ESPN2).

As Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick go, UConn and UC usually go.

Napier beat out Kilpatrick this week for AAC Player of the Year, and the UC senior promised to use the vote as motivation as he winds up his college career.

The two teams split during the regular season.

"You know what type of game that's going to be, it's going to be a war," said Huskies coach Kevin Ollie about facing Cincinnati again. "We gotta have that heart, we gotta have that hustle."

It actually was a close three-player race for AAC Player of the Year, with Louisville's Russ Smith thrown in.

All three guards were first-team All-AAC and first-team All-America in early announcements by Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, and Bleacher Report.

Kilpatrick, the most talented offensive player, led the AAC in scoring (20.9) and 3-pointers made (2.8). But he was  not in the top 15 in assists or steals.

Napier, the most well-rounded, was second in scoring (17.7), second in assists (5.2) and third in steals (1.8). He also was 13th in rebounding (6.0) and led his team in that category.

Smith was fourth in scoring (17.5), third in assists (4.8) and  second in steals (2.0).

Napier won the conference Player of the Week five times and Kilpatrick won three times. Smith was preseason Player of the Year.

Take your pick.

Not surprisingly, when UConn and UC played this season, the winner had the guard with the better all-around game.

Kilpatrick had 26 points, a career-high 12 rebounds and six assists in UC's 63-58 victory in Cincinnati Feb. 6.

Napier finished with 16 points on 5-of-19 shooting with three assists and two rebounds.

But Napier had 18 points and 11 rebounds in a 51-45 win at Storrs March 1.

Kilpatrick was the only Bearcats player to score in double digits with 16 points, but he missed 12 of 16 shots. He also had a career-worst seven turnovers

Central Florida used a box-and-one on Kilpatrick in their AAC opener Thursday night, but he still scored a team-high 21 points in UC's 61-58 victory.

No. 19 Memphis set out to keep the ball from Napier and held him to 11 points on nine shots, but UConn still won by 19, 72-53.

Niels Giffey made six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 24 points. Giffey is shooting 52.1 percent on 3-pointers.

"He's been the greatest shooter that we've had this whole year," Napier said. 

The winner will face No. 5 Louisville or Houston in Saturday's championship.

RELATED: How UC beat Central Florida.

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