Locked in yet another defensive struggle with Cincinnati, the Huskies were the team with the tighter grip.

Tighter and tighter the Huskies defense played, as they held the top-seeded Bearcats without a point for nearly six minutes, and to only two points over a span of nearly 11 minutes.

And with that kind of space to work the Huskies offense made enough critical shots to knock off Cincinnati, 58-56, Friday night in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals at the FedExForum.

"They play so hard, but I thought we just stood up to them," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "We stayed in the middle of the ring – I'm going to keep saying that – and kept throwing punches."

Ryan Boatright scored 13 points, 11 in the second half, to help nudge the Huskies across the finish line. Boatright hit three-point goals on consecutive trips down the floor at the game-turning juncture, putting UConn ahead for good, and reliable Niels Giffey, who scored 11, hit a three to space the lead out to eight points.

Then UConn (26-7) had to hang on, a position in which it has found itself numerous times this season.

"It was a grind-it-out win," Ollie said. "That's why this team is so fun, they get down and dirty."

Cincinnati (27-6) edged back to within two points with under a minute to play, on Sean Kilpatrick's free throws, but Boatright hit two at the line on UConn's end. Jermaine Sanders hit a deep three to keep the Bearcats alive with 12.2 seconds left.

Napier missed the back end at the free throw line, giving Cincinnati one last shot to tie. But Sean Kilpatrick's shot from under the basket, with UConn's defensive presence all around, did not fall, and time expired, a dramatic finish.

"One of the guys, DeAndre [Daniels] or Amida [Brimah] contested his layup," Napier said, "I thought it was going to go down, but he definitely put too much spin on it. Our big guys were smacking the ball up in the air, and that buzzer sounded off."

Napier scored 15 and DeAndre Daniels had 14 points and nine rebounds, the Huskies winning the rebounding battle much of the game against the always physical Bearcats. And they beat them for the second time in a row. Kilpatrick scored 14 for Cincinnati, so his individual struggle with Napier, rivals for the league's player of the year award, was a wash – but Napier got the award, and his was the team advancing here.

Huge," Boatright said in the jubilant UConn locker room. "Huge, huge, huge."

As a result, the Huskies earned a chance to play for the first AAC title, and a rematch against Louisville, which tore through the early rounds of this tournament, beating Rutgers by 61 and Houston by 29. The defending national champs humiliated the Huskies by 33 in Louisville in the regular season finale last Saturday.

"We're going to come out and play harder," Daniels said. "We learned from the past, when we played against them. We're right where wanted to be, we wanted to come into this tournament and end up playing them again."