Connecticut wins NCAA title, 60-54 over Kentucky

Connecticut celebrates
with the championship trophy after beating Kentucky 60-54 at the NCAA Final Four tournament college
basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J.
Phillip)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Coaches and players left them. Others told them to go away.
The guys who stuck around at UConn ended up with the last laugh and a pretty good prize to go with it:
The national title.
Shabazz
Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the
Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky’s freshmen and bring home a
championship hardly anyone saw coming.
"You’re looking at the
hungry Huskies," Napier told the crowd and TV audience as confetti
rained down.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you
banned us."
The senior guard had 22 points, six rebounds and three
assists, and his partner in defensive lock-down, Ryan Boatright,
finished with 14 points.
The victory comes only a short year after
the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems.
That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.
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.
"I see my guys enjoying it," Napier said. "That’s the most special feeling ever."
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, who pulled out wins with clutch
3-pointers in Kentucky’s last three games, missed a 3 from the left
corner that would’ve given the Cats the lead. Kentucky never got that
close again.
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."
Calipari said he decided not to foul at the end "because they’re not missing."
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, Rip
Hamilton, Ray Allen and all those other UConn greats. This adds to the
school’s titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
"When they say Ray, Rip,
Ben, Emeka, Kemba — they’ll soon say Shabazz," said their former coach,
Jim Calhoun, who was in the crowd along with former Presidents Bill
Clinton, George W. Bush and a father-and-son team whose dance to the
"Happy" song got huge applause when played on the big screen at AT&T
Stadium.
The crowd was cheering for UConn at the end.
A
short year ago, the Huskies were preparing for their first season in the
new American Athletic Conference after the Big East Catholic schools
decided to move on and none of the so-called power conferences wanted
them. Calhoun, who built the program, left because of health problems.
And most damaging — the NCAA ban 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
make their grit, court sense and loyalty pay off.
"It’s not about
going to the next level, it’s not about going to the pros, but playing
for your university, playing for your teammates," Niels Giffey said.
"And I’m so proud of all the guys on this team that stuck with this
team."
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.
"I’ve got a
lot of heart and I wasn’t coming out," Boatright said. "We put in too
much work all year for me to give up on an ankle sprain."
Napier
and Giffey made 3s on UConn’s two possessions after the timeout, and
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. The big
question is whether they’ll want to leave on this note.
"I think all these kids are coming back, so I think we should be good," Calipari deadpanned,
getting big laughs.
He
called his group the most coachable bunch he’s ever had. They were
preseason No. 1, a huge disappointment through much of this season. They
were seeded an uninspiring eighth for the tournament and came on strong
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.
But what fun 2013-14 turned out to be.
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.
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