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Connecticut wins NCAA title, 60-54 over Kentucky

Breaking Down UConn's National Title Win

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- No conference wanted them. Several teammates and their coach left them. The NCAA kept them out for a year.

UConn won it all anyway.

Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky's freshmen and a national title hardly anyone saw coming.

Napier had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and his partner in defensive lock-down, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.

Napier kneeled down and put his forehead to the court for a long while after the buzzer sounded. He was wiping back tears when he cut down the net.

"Honestly, I want to get everybody's attention right quick," Napier said. "You're looking at the hungry Huskies. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us."

Yes, it is only a short year since the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.

UConn (32-8) never trailed in the final. The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats (29-11) trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left. But Aaron Harrison, Kentucky's big-moment shooter in the last three games, missed a 3-pointer from the left corner that would've given the `Cats the lead. Kentucky never got closer.

One key difference in a six-point loss: Kentucky's 11 missed free throws - a flashback of sorts for coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws in the 2008 final. The Wildcats went 13 for 24. UConn went 10 for 10, including Lasan Kromah's two to seal the game with 25.1 seconds left.

"We had our chances to win," Calipari said. "We're missing shots, we're missing free throws. We just didn't have enough."

In all, Calipari's One and Doners got outdone by a more fundamentally sound, more-seasoned group that came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program's fourth national title since 1999. They were the highest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino's eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.

Napier and Boatright now go down with Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor and all those other UConn champs of years past. This adds to the school's titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.

This one was, by far, the most unexpected.

A short year ago, UConn was preparing for its first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being booted from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Longtime coach Jim Calhoun left because of health problems. And most damaging - the NCAA ban that triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.

Napier stuck around. So did Boatright. And Calhoun's replacement, Kevin Ollie, figured out how to get the most out of their grit and court sense.

"Coach Calhoun, the greatest coach ever," Ollie said. "He paved the way we just walked through it."

They were one step ahead of Kentucky all night, holding off furious rally after furious rally.

Kentucky's biggest push started when James Young (20 points, seven rebounds) posterized Amida Brimah with a monster dunk to start a three-point play and trigger an 8-0 run.

In the middle of that, Boatright, who shut down Harrison's twin brother, Andrew, most of the night, twisted his left ankle while receiving an innocuous-looking pass from Napier. He called a timeout. Got it worked on and came back out.

Napier and Niels Giffey made 3s on UConn's next two possessions, and suddenly, that one-point lead was back up to five - fairly comfortable by this tight, taut, buzzer-beating tournament's standards.

The big question in Kentucky is what will happen to all those freshmen. Julius Randle (10 points, six rebounds) is a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA. Young and the Harrison brothers could be first-rounders, too. Big question is whether they'll want to leave on this note.

They were preseason No. 1, a huge disappointment through much of this season, then came on just in time for a run to the final.

But they got outdone by a team on a different sort of mission - a team led by Napier, who stuck with the program even though he knew the 2012-13 season was for nothing but fun.

Oh, what fun this was, though.

Napier was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player and he earned it on both ends of the court, keeping a hand in Aaron Harrison's face most of the night and holding him to a 3-for-7, seven-point, no-damage night.

He could also shoot it a bit - including a 3-pointer in the first half when UConn was having trouble dissecting the Kentucky zone. The shot came from about 30 feet, right in front of the edge of the Final Four logo at Center Court, or, as Dick Vitale put it: "He shot that one from Fort Worth."

They felt it back in Storrs, where they could be celebrating another title shortly. The UConn women play for the national title Tuesday.

If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn, of course.

Join the discussion

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Henry and Karen April 08 2014 at 12:06 PM

Let me see if I understand this right: Many are saying that UCONN deserved to be banned because of their low graduation rate. But the article above also states that the real question about Kentucky is how many of their top players, now freshmen, will be picked up in the NBA draft. Is there a difference between those who don't graduate and those who leave in the draft?

College basketball is what it is. Some are there for the education and a future elsewhere. Some are there to succeed in basketball and get picked up in the draft. You can name the NCAA schools that are focused on academics. Northwestern would be one example. But many are focused on good football and basketball programs to support their endowment funds. So be it.

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zkriskelly April 08 2014 at 9:17 AM

Congrats to UCONN!!! What an amazing run this year for a magical program!

Flag Reply +7 rate up
harborba April 08 2014 at 1:55 PM

Ohhhhhh...its the NCAAs fault your team was out for a season. Here I thought it was all about your school not accepting responsibility to follow NCAA rules

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
pag033 harborba April 08 2014 at 2:47 PM

ohhhhhhhhhhhh I see your point. punish everyone on the team. even though their grades were alright and they had nothing to do with the decisions that were made.........

Flag Reply 0 rate up
jackstraw0704 April 08 2014 at 9:39 AM

"If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn, of course."
Not only the "last" school to do it, the ONLY SCHOOL EVER to do it

Flag Reply +7 rate up
Joey April 08 2014 at 9:42 AM

The greatest NCAA March Madness tournament I have ever seen ! People like Rick who try to drag racist politics into this forum need to wake up and get a liffe !!! BE HAPPYyou were able to witness such a great display of college athletics,
I am an ardent Florida Gators fan but i didn't whine when they lost in the final four, instead i praised UCONN's grit and talent, then wound up rooting for them last night. WOW is all I can say,..a treat for us college sports fanatics !!!

Flag Reply +10 rate up
Merle April 08 2014 at 4:51 AM

I kept saying I am going for the under dog in their last 4 games and they came forward and proved their selves to be the top dog!!! Congratulations guys!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Mike April 08 2014 at 9:48 AM

Great game, clearly the better team won. I was surprised that UCONN actually out rebounded Kentucky. UCONN also called for more fouls benefitted by Kentucky's poor free throw shooting. Kentucky also had a significant number of turnovers. Did the freshman bend to the pressure, or was it simply a team with better fundamentals, hard to say. But I thought these areas were significant. Previously, Kentucky's game planned seamed to be toss up a shot, get an offensive rebound and score. Definitely did not work on this group. Congratulations to both teams on a good season. I will be anxious to see how many Kentucky players bail out and go to the pros. It appears they really could use another season or so to hone their skills.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
BIG BOB April 08 2014 at 7:30 AM

good 1 ollie

Flag Reply +1 rate up
kk4ip April 08 2014 at 9:50 AM

My compliments to the coaches past and present.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
gkthomasjr April 08 2014 at 9:50 AM

I'M SO HAPPY FOR UCONN!!!!!!O YEAH!!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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