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Jarrod Polson

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Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

Photos by The Associated Press. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners.

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky guard James Young (1) dunks between Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels (2) and center Amida Brimah (35) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By EDDIE PELLS
Associated Press

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.

UCONN 60, KENTUCKY 54

KENTUCKY (29-11): Young 5-13 8-9 20, Aa. Harrison 3-7 0-1 7, An. Harrison 3-9 0-0 8,  Randle 3-7 4-7 10, Johnson 2-5 1-4 5, Lee 0-0 0-0 0,  Poythress 2-5 0-1 4, Hawkins 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 18-46 13-24 54.

UCONN (32-8): Nolan 0-3 0-0 0, Daniels 4-14 0-0 8, Giffey 3-7 2-2 10,  Boatright 5-6 4-4 14, Napier 8-16 2-2 22, Samuel 1-1 0-0 2,  Kromah 1-4 2-2 4, Brimah 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-53 10-10 60.

Halftime_UConn 35-31. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 5-16 (An. Harrison 2-4,  Young 2-5, Aa. Harrison 1-5, Poythress 0-2), UConn 6-19 (Napier 4-9,  Giffey 2-4, Boatright 0-1, Kromah 0-1, Daniels 0-4). Fouled Out_None.  Rebounds_Kentucky 33 (Young 7), UConn 34 (Daniels, Kromah, Napier 6).  Assists_Kentucky 11 (An. Harrison 5), UConn 8 (Boatright, Napier 3).  Total Fouls_Kentucky 10, UConn 17. A_79,238.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

NCAA Championship UK v UConnEditor’s note: Kentucky fan Kelsey Mattingly sent this to me about 2 a.m. Sunday after UK’s win over Wisconsin. I saved it for today to share to let each of you again relive the feeling she had Saturday — and you probably did, too.

By KELSEY MATTINGLY

With exactly 6:10 to go in the game I knew we were going to lose. My sister was laying in the floor, facing away from the television as she had through the entire second half of the Louisville game. But this time I just didn’t know if her mojo would be enough. I had experienced too many missed last second shots and the tell-tale pain of heartbreak was making its way when there was 7.5 seconds in the game. But then it happened.

AARON FREAKING HARRISON. It happened so fast and I’m certain my heart stopped when the ball left his hands and went through the net because Senator, I have no recollection of those events. Thank goodness for DVR. And say what you want, but if you didn’t cry the moment that thing went in for the third game in a row then you’re lying. Every residence, bar, and base containing members of the BBN erupted. The Clutch Cats had done it again.

But of course this isn’t news to any of you. If you’re reading this, you know what happened just as well as anyone…maybe even better. I’m merely writing this to say thank you. Words cannot express how incredibly blessed I feel to be able to experience this in my life time. Because nothing can compare to this. This run. This team. This chance. What we are witnessing will go down in history as the most amazing post-season experience to have ever been obtained by a team. A team that was catching a lot of heat mid-season. A team that starts five freshmen, five “one and done’s”.

To be able to one day tell my children that I saw Aaron Harrison hit the game winning shot (more than once), Alex Poythress completely take over, and Marcus Lee make amazing breakout plays, that will be the greatest moment. Maybe second greatest. Because how many times will you get to see Aaron Harrison hit a clutch three to win the game? Oh yeah…three.

So tonight while State Street is being burned to the ground and fans are up celebrating until the wee hours of morning, I will soak it all in and be thankful. When we all wake up the birds will sing My Old Kentucky Home and Louisville still won’t exist. Enjoy this Big Blue…this is it. We are it.

 

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team will have a public celebration of the 2013-14 season Tuesday at Rupp Arena, immediately following the Wildcats’ return from Texas.

Here are the details of the event:

• Tickets are free and will be distributed Tuesday beginning at 8 a.m. ET at the Rupp Arena ticket office.

• Fans wishing to acquire tickets may begin lining up at the Rupp ticket office immediately following the game. Security will be on-site to provide directions / assistance as fans arrive.
• There is a limit of four tickets per person.

• Persons must be at least age 14 to pick up tickets.

• All tickets are reserved seats, no general admission.

• Tickets are available only at the Rupp Arena ticket office and CANNOT be ordered online or over the telephone.

• UK students with ID may request tickets in a special student section while supplies last. Students can receive one ticket in these special sections when student ID is presented at the windows.

• Children under the age of 2 do not need a ticket if the child sits on the lap of a parent.

• Paid parking will be available in all lots of Rupp Arena at the usual rate of $15 per car.

• Doors to Rupp Arena will open to the public at 1:30 p.m.

• The team plane is expected to land at the Lexington airport at approximately 2 p.m.  The team will board a bus and travel to Rupp Arena. The event will begin when the team arrives.

For fans who would like to cheer the team bus along its way to Rupp, here is the route:

• Man-o-War to Versailles Road
• Right on Red Mile Road/Virginia Ave
• Left on South Limestone
• Left on West Main
• West Main to Rupp Arena

For fans unable to attend at Rupp, the event also will be televised live on WKYT.

Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

Jarrod Polson

Jarrod Polson

By LARRY VAUGHT

ARLINGTON — If there was one thing Jarrod Polson learned at Kentucky it was never to look back, only ahead.

That’s why the Kentucky senior, and former West Jessamine High School standout, didn’t even want to think about what it would like after his career finally ends on Friday before the Wildcats played Wisconsin Saturday night.

“There is no time to think about that. I can’t afford to think this could be the last game. I just have to think this is another game,” said Polson Friday. “I won’t look back until it is over.”

Yet he already knows he’ll always look back at his career with fond memories. He led West Jessamine to consecutive 12th Region championships. He had Division I scholarship offers, but he turned them down to be a Kentucky walk-on.

“This is always what I wanted to do as a kid. It has really turned out well for me personally and for the team. I will also look at this as some of the best years of my life,” Polson said.

He was on the 2011 team with Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller that reached the Final Four. He was part of the 2012 national championship team with Anthony David and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the first two picks in the NBA draft that year. He played extended minutes during the tumultuous NIT season as a junior and provided a steady force at point guard.

This year he has not played as much as he probably hoped — partially because of the importance of freshman point guard Andrew Harrison and partially because freshman Dominique Hawkins, another in-state player, got minutes. Rather than begrudge Hawkins’ playing time, Polson did all he could to help him and knows what advice he has for him over the summer.

“Just get in the gym and be confident. Just work on his game. He hasn’t had as much playing time as he wanted this year, but he’s a really good player. I would just tell him to be confident in everything he does,” Polson said. “It is a tough position. You are sitting on the bench for a long time and then your name is called and you have to be ready at all times. I think he has done a good job with that this year and hopefully he will put in more time in the gym and that will help him a lot in the next two-three  years.”

Polson has scored just 32 points in 276 minutes (8.9 minutes per game), but he has made nine 3-point shots and gave UK a needed lift in several games. He also done plenty in practice and off the court to help teammates.

“He has done a lot. When we are playing against him in scrimmages, he is really going at us. He is tough to guard. He has been teaching us like little stuff to help us out,” freshman guard James Young said. “He has been physical playing defense on us. When we didn’t know how to do drills, he would tell us what we had to do and would be like an extra coach on the floor.”

Perhaps no one learned more from Polson than Hawkins.

“I have learned a lot about the point guard position from him. When I was playing point guard, he helped. Now that I went to two guard, he helped me with plays, too,” Hawkins said. “He has shown me how to help younger guys.You have to be patient and make sure that you stay focused for when your name is called. Just be a great team player and do what you can.

“I will do anything to win and I would be the nicest guy to players if we can win or if I have to do something else to the players to get them motivated, then I will do that. That is how Jarrod is. He is so humble and knows exactly what he is doing in practice and helps everybody out. He doesn’t think about himself. I would say he is one of the best guys off the court I know, too.”

That kind of relationship with teammates is what Polson, who had played in 92 career games going into Saturday night’s matchup, will remember best about playing at Kentucky.

“I think I will look back and feel that way about the Kentucky teams I have been on. Being able to become friends with a lot of different guys and NBA guys, just knowing them. It has been a really great experience for me,” he said.

He admits it is to fun to watch Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Knight, Doron Lamb, Miller and other former UK teammates in the NBA.

“Whenever I see it on TV, I watch but it is kind of weird for me. I always thought of NBA players as being on some high pedestal, and now they are just my friends playing in the  NBA,” Polson laughed and said. “Whenever I get a chance to see them, I love it. Whenever it is on and I am doing nothing, I will watch. I don’t watch too much NBA, but if I know someone I know is playing, I will turn it on and watch it.”

He hopes when he needs tickets to a NBA game, one of his friends  will take care of him.

“I am still pretty good friends with a lot of them and stay in contact a little bit, so hopefully that will be the case when I have some free time,” he said.

Kentucky coach John Calipari emphasized again Friday that “Jarrod is like everybody” on the team and joked about the constant signs young female fans bring to games asking Polson to marry them.

“He’s one of those kids, he’s a great student, great faith, character. He’s meant so much, helped us beat Maryland a year ago making baskets and free throws. I mean, he’s had a terrific career,” Calipari said.

Polson, who earned his degree in 2013, isn’t sure about his future other than he will “probably the first few years (after graduation) stay in Lexington” to see what develops.

He says he’s “never really though too much” about coaching, a career path many assumed he might pick.

“I love the game of basketball, so that has always been in the back of my head and my dad has always said I would be a good coach. I don’t know if that will ever be the case. I am  not saying I will never be a coach, but I just don’t know honestly. Just whatever God has in mind for me is what I will do,” Polson said.

His father, George, says he’s most proud that his son’s faith has grown at Kentucky, a perception the UK senior says is true.

“That’s the biggest thing for me is just staying grounded in my faith. A lot of people even before I came to UK were a little hesitant about that. They were like, ‘Man, that is a tough world to go into with all the hoopla and celebrity status and stuff.’ But I really do feel like I have stayed grounded,” Polson said.  “In the last four years I have met a lot of cool people who have really helped me in that. That is what I will look back on in college more than anything basketball-wise.”

He thinks teammates appreciate his faith.

“I think they see what a big faith I have and hopefully it has rubbed off on them a little bit, and I think it has. Just the thing with me is using my faith to help other people. That’s what I want to do and try to do,” he said.

He went on a mission trip to Ethiopia last summer that made a huge impact on him. He wrote a daily blog about it and the way the trip changed and challenged him.

“I have been thinking about that a lot. I don’t know what that will look like in the future, but that is in the back of my mind to go back to different places like that. That is something I really enjoyed and one of my biggest passions,” Polson said. “I love to be around people. Whatever I do I just want to impact people in a positive way. Hopefully once I get a job, that will be the case and I will do those kind of things on a daily basis.”

But he’ll also be able to look back and remember being part of three Final Four teams along with Jon Hood.

“Down the road, if we say, ‘we’ve been to three Final Fours,’ I don’t think people will believe us. It’s not very common at all, even getting to a Final Four one time. Just ending our careers on a note like this really means a lot,” he said.

 

Kentucky players celebrate on the court after their 74-73 victory over Wisconsin in an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Kentucky players celebrate on the court after their 74-73 victory over Wisconsin in an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Team Records, Notes

  • Kentucky improves to 29-10 overall, while Wisconsin concludes the season at 30-8.
  • Kentucky now leads the all-time series 4-1 and 2-0 in NCAA Tournament action.
  • The Wildcats lead the nation with a 116-46 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament.
  • UK is now 18-2 (.900) in NCAA Tournament games under John Calipari.
  • UK has amassed 18 tournament victories under Calipari which is the most of any school since 2010. Florida, Kansas and Louisville are next with 11 each.
  • Kentucky has defeated four-straight top-12 teams en route to the National title games. Three of the four teams comprised a portion of the 2013 Final Four.
  • UK is the first team to appear in three of the last four Final Fours since UCLA appeared in three-consecutive from 2006-08.
  • Tonight’s attendance of 79,444 broke an NCAA Tournament and Final Four record.
  • Kentucky has advanced to its 13th national title contest. UK has won eight championships. 

Team Facts

  • Kentucky’s starting lineup consisted of five freshmen in Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle and James Young. That lineup improves to 13-4 on the season.
  • Alex Poythress was the first sub off the bench for UK. It was his team-leading 23rd time being the first called upon.
  • Young hit a 3-pointer as the game’s first basket at the 19:01 mark of the opening stanza to extend UK’s 3-point streak to 898 consecutive games. It is the second-longest streak in the country.
  • John Calipari coached teams are now 129-38 in the months of March and April.
  • Calipari is 43-13 (.768) all-time as a coach in the NCAA Tournament. His career winning-percentage is the first among active head coaches.
  • Kentucky has won 11-straight NCAA Tournament games. That’s the most consecutive victories for a team in the NCAA Tournament since Florida won 12-straight en route to its national titles in 2006 and 2007.
  • UK has trailed by nine or more points and come back to win in each of the last three outings. The Wildcats have scored on its last possession in four-straight contests en route to the title game.

 

First Half Facts

  • Young started the game with a 3-pointer and UK raced out to the early advantage to begin the opening half. UK held a 9-7 advantage into the game’s first media timeout.
  • Wisconsin took its first lead of the game at the 15:00 minute mark of the half at 11-9. The Badgers used a 10-0 run to take the game’s largest lead at 17-9 with just under 13 minutes remaining following a fast-break 3-pointer.
  • The Badgers again an eight-point lead with 6:26 remaining before Poythress slammed down a basket to end the threat to make the score 30-24 in favor of the designated home team.
  • Wisconsin captured a nine-point lead at the 4:13 mark by the score of 34-25.
  • The Badgers made only one field goal over the final seven minutes of the half. Ten of its last 12 points to end the stanza came at the charity stripe.
  • Kentucky trailed by four, 40-36, at the half and is 6-8 on the year when trailing at the break, but 2-0 during postseason competition.

Second Half Facts

  • Wisconsin opened the half with a made 3-pointer to take a 43-36 edge.
  • A 9-0 run highlighted by a Johnson traditional three-point play lifted the Wildcats to their first lead, 44-43, since a 9-7 advantage in the opening half. The run extended to 15-0 following a Poythress put-back, a dunk by Lee and two free throws by Young.
    • The 15-0 run matched the longest of the season which UK had set twice earlier this year.
  • Wisconsin quickly cut UK’s eight-point advantage to two at 53-51 following an 8-2 burst, and then knotted the score on a pair of free throws the following possession.
  • After an Andrew Harrison drive and score, the Badgers answered with a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead at 56-55.
  • UK eventually tied the score at 69 apiece on a pair of Randle free throws.
  • After trading turnovers, Poythress’ feed from Andrew Harrison gave UK a 71-69 advantage with 2:11 remaining.
  • A foul on a Wisconsin 3-point attempt with 15.2 seconds remaining and under one second on the shot clock enabled the Badgers to go to the line and make two free throws for a 73-71 lead.
  • Mr. NCAA Clutch, Aaron Harrison, sunk his only made 3-pointer of the contest with six seconds remaining to lift UK to the 74-73 win after a last-second attempt by the Badgers rimmed out.

Individual Notes

  • Aaron Harrison finished with eight points and a pair of assists.
    • Has made at least one 3-pointer in 11-straight contests.
    • Today’s eight points marked the first time this postseason he did not reach double-figure scoring.
    • Has hit the game-winning 3-pointer in each of UK’s last three games.
  • Andrew Harrison scored nine points and had four assists.
    • Dished out four or more assists in nine of UK’s last 11 games.
  • Dominique Hawkins scored two points in 11 minutes of action.
    • Scored his first career postseason points on a driving bucket late in the opening half.
    • They were the first points for the freshman guard since a game on Jan. 8, vs. Mississippi State.
  • Dakari Johnson tallied 10 points and had a team-high seven rebounds.
    • Reached double-figure scoring for the second time in NCAA Tournament action.
    • Was the fourth double-figure scoring game of his career.
    • Has led the team in rebounding three times this season.
  • Alex Poythress scored eight points on a perfect 4-of-4 attempts from the field.
    • Has scored six or more points in four-straight NCAA games.
    • Is 12-of-13 (.923) from the field in UK’s last four games.
    • Led the team with seven rebounds, his second game this season pacing the team in hauled in boards.
  • James Young tallied a game-high 17 points and added five rebounds.
    • Marked his 29th double-figure scoring effort of the season.
    • Led the team in scoring nine occasions this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos by the Associated Press. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners.

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