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UConn ends Kentucky’s magical NCAA tourney run with 60-54 title game win

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)

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.


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.

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  1. RJ

    Magic my hiney! Plain old coaching won this game.

  2. RJ

    The worst thing about one and done’s ——- When you lose the big one, no one remembers you… You are just one among many..

  3. Mike

    UK returns to pre-tourney form as rookie coach takes veteran Cal behind the woodshed and kicks his butt. Randle and the Twins picked a bad time to bomb out and the Twins had more turnovers than field goals. Young had a great game offensively but can’t believe the dude played a year and never learned how to play defense. Shocking that we never led in this game at all. Poythress a non factor again and DJ couldn’t hit the side of a barn door with anything. It took Cal forever to realize the zone might work and then got away from it just as fast. Proud of the way they came back this year but a bad night to return to old, bad habits.

  4. RJ

    Mike: I couldn’t have said it better. Out coached, out played and out hustled.

  5. RJ

    Might be a good time to rethink recruiting priorities.

  6. Larry T Clemons

    You Guys rejoice in a loss, But we had an exceptional Tournament, ” Were you been, on another Planet…The Whole Sports World have been talking and praising the Kentucky Run… Can’t be upset with these Young Guns…They gave it a Heck Of A Shot ! You’d be lying to yourself to think otherwise…

  7. Mike

    LTC…stay delusional my friend. TG this season is over and we won’t have to entertain any more of your cheerleading. You will be missed.

  8. Barry

    Larry T. you just don’t get it. When you look back on this season…it sucked. Sure, they had 5 good wins in the tournament, but tonight was an embarrassment. But why should any of us be surprised? They never got the basics down to begin with. All of the attitudes of entitlement should have been ironed out last Summer, but oh, that’s right the Twins weren’t on campus last Summer. Not being strong with the ball, not boxing out, not grabbing rebounds with authority, making passes like freshmen in high school, not being able to hit free throws…how do you get on a KY team and not have that down pat before stepping on campus?
    If you are going to recruit a new group of “one and dones” then you can’t use the freshmen excuse…you have to get that worked out before you get into the conference schedule. This team never focused on getting better until the very end because Coach kept giving them an excuse not to. You can’t coach down to your players, you have to coach them up to the level of play your program demands. That’s what you get paid for. If you are going to allow freshmen to be freshmen, then you have to abandon the whole “one and done” philosophy and study Bo Ryan’s approach to the game.
    As for Larry T. and all of his rah rahs, making excuses for this bunch is being Dumb and Dumber still. You can’t learn from mistakes until you own them. Next year’s team can learn a lot from this bunch. Hopefully they start working on it as a complete team in the Summer like this team should have.

  9. PatCat

    Mike and RJ, I think you need to find another team or another sport to follow. You obviously know a lot less about basketball than you think you do. Or do you just like to sit in the stands and find fault. The incredible run this young team made and they come up 6 points short and you can’t do anything but complain and point fingers?? OMG they didn’t play a perfect game!! And of course it’s Cal’s fault!
    The two of you need to be banned from ever watching the Cats again. You don’t deserve this team or this coach. Just go away!!

  10. Barry

    PatCat who died and made you the Pope?

  11. RJ

    PatCat. When your guards have more turnovers than points, that’s pretty poor play on anyone’s basketball team. They’re playing for the national championship for crying out loud.

  12. PatCat

    I didn’t say our Cats played well. It was a bad game, but after 8 straight really good games I think you might want to realize these guys are a year out of HS and still learning and still almost won a NC. Being overly critical and pointing fingers in this situation is the sign of a spoiled “fan” who probably has never played the game. And to criticize Cal’s coaching really shows me you know nothing about how basketball really works.

  13. Rod

    Wow, these comments are way off base. there will be plenty of time to point out the problems in weeks ahead.
    I think Cal and the kids gave their all the last three weeks and should be lifted up and praised to the heavens for great effort and desire. Go Cats!!,

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