Recap: Connecticut vs. Kentucky
Arlington, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Kevin Ollie said he knew his second team at Connecticut was destined for great things.
A year after they were banned from the postseason, and a month after they lost to a conference rival by 33 points, Shabazz Napier and the rest of the Huskies proved their coach right.
Napier scored 22 points and Connecticut finished an improbable run through the NCAA Tournament by beating Kentucky 60-54 on Monday night to win the fourth national title in program history, all in the last 16 years.
The Huskies, the first No. 7 seed ever to play in the national final, never trailed and survived a 19-5 Kentucky run spanning the first and second half.
They persevered the way they did through last season's ban over academics and that March 8 loss at Louisville.
A run through the American Athletic Conference Tournament ended in another loss to the Cardinals and the slight of being a popular upset pick in their NCAA opener against Saint Joseph's in the East Region.
UConn survived that game in overtime on Napier's back and beat Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and No. 1 overall seed Florida, snapping the Gators' 30- game winning streak in the Final Four on Saturday night.
The run ended with a convincing victory over the preseason No. 1 Wildcats, whose roller-coaster ride powered by a freshman class stacked with NBA talent ended with a walk off the court as the Huskies (32-8) celebrated.
"We always did it together," Ollie said during the post-game celebration at the center of cavernous AT&T Stadium. "We won as a group."
James Young had 20 points to lead Kentucky (29-11) and leading scorer Julius Randle, a fellow freshman, contributed 10.
The Wildcats, who came out of the Midwest Region as a No. 8 seed, trailed 30-15 with six minutes left in the first half.
"The way we started the game probably cost us the game," said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who was trying to lead the Wildcats to their second title in three years and ninth overall.
"Someone asked why we started that way. Duh, they're freshmen."
Ryan Boatright, who stayed in the game despite rolling his left ankle late in the second half, added 14 points for the Huskies and Niels Giffey scored 10.
Boatright scored eight points in the first 8:16 of the game to guide UConn's early run and later sat out the last 4:16 of the first half after picking up his second foul. When the final buzzer sounded, he leapt in celebration, apparently feeling no pain from his rolled ankle.
But it was Napier who carried the Huskies most of the way. During an off-night on the offensive end against Florida, the American Athletic Conference player of the year contributed in other ways.
The senior guard was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
"I want to get everyone's attention," Napier screamed into a microphone during the post-game celebration. "Ladies and gentlemen, you're looking at the hungry Huskies. This is what happens when you ban us!"
Later, Napier said he was happy to be in the position to say that.
"We're hungry and when you prevent us going to the postseason and it wasn't our fault, we worked from that day on," said Napier. "Coach Ollie told us it was a two-year plan and we believed."
Kentucky also missed last year's tournament after winning the title in 2012 with future No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis, but not because of a ban. The Wildcats landed in the NIT after a down regular season and were dealt a first- round loss by Robert Morris.
Against UConn, they missed 11 of their 24 free-throw attempts and shot just 39.1 percent -- including 33.3 percent in the second half. The Huskies, who went 11-2 in their last 13 games, shot 41.5 percent -- just 32 percent after halftime.
Twin brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison, also freshmen, combined to score 15 points for Kentucky. Aaron Harrison hit 3-pointers in the final seconds to beat Michigan in the Elite Eight and Wisconsin in the Final Four on Saturday.
Monday, he opened the second half with a 3 to cap Kentucky's 19-5 run, drawing the Wildcats within one. Kentucky was that close several more times.
Later, Giffey knocked down a 3 from the left corner to spark a 7-0 run that gave the Huskies a nine-point lead at 48-39 with 11 minutes left.Young stopped the run with a driving, one-handed dunk over 7-foot UConn center Amida Brimah, starting an 8-0 Wildcats burst to get them within one again.
Napier responded with a 3-pointer at the other end and Kentucky was never that close again. With 1:49 left, Giffey missed a shot and Lasan Kromah grabbed the offensive rebound, kicking it back out to Napier at the point as he fell out of bounds. UConn didn't get points out of it, but the rebound drained 27 ticks off the clock with Kentucky down six.
"They got every 50-50 ball," said Calipari. "They had more energy. We hung in there, gave ourselves a chance and made the buckets after the half. I thought we were going to win the game.
"(My players) needed more from me. We're talking all freshmen out there. I wish I had more for them."
DeAndre Daniels, the junior Huskies forward who has emerged as an offensive star in the tournament, scored just eight points but had an early highlight that sparked his team when he drove the baseline with his left hand and dunked with his right.
At the other end, UConn's rigid defense forced three Kentucky turnovers in the first five minutes. Napier knocked down a 3 after the third one and Boatright spun off a defender for a reverse layup to give the Huskies a 17-8 advantage.
The UConn lead reached 12 on Napier's 3 from the high right side and ballooned to 15 on Giffey's free throws several minutes later.
After Aaron Harrison's steal and dunk pulled Kentucky within 10, Napier hit his third 3-pointer from several feet behind the arc. But Young and Andrew Harrison followed with consecutive 3s for the Wildcats, cutting their deficit to seven. Randle capped a 16-5 run with a putback in the final seconds to get Kentucky within 35-31 at halftime.Game Notes
Calipari denied a report that he would take a job as head coach of the NBA's
Los Angeles Lakers ... Ollie was the first person other than Jim Calhoun to
coach UConn in an NCAA Tournament game since 1979. Calhoun stepped aside
before last season because of health problems ... Wildcats 7-foot sophomore
Willie Cauley-Stein remained out after spraining his ankle against Louisville
... UConn has never lost the title game ... Kentucky fell to 8-4 in the
national final ... It was the lowest-seeded national final since the NCAA
began using seeds in the 1979 tournament ... The last meeting between the
teams was UConn's win in the 2011 Final Four on the way to the national title.