UConn shuts down Kentucky, wins fourth NCAA national title
No. 7 seed Connecticut shut down eighth-seeded Kentucky in the NCAA title game and won its fourth national crown.
04/08/2014 12:01 AM
09/08/2014 7:13 PM
Kentucky's youth finally got served.
Connecticut's old guard changed the story.
The Huskies' dynamic, veteran backcourt was too much for the Wildcats' precocious teens, grinding out a wire-to-wire 60-54 victory in Monday night's NCAA title game.
And in doing so, UConn is a champion for the fourth time in school history. With the win, Connecticut remained a perfect four-to-four in title games.
UConn seniors Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey ended their careers as they began them -- atop the college basketball world. The Huskies raised the hardware for the second time in four years.
It was a remarkable turnaround for the program, which a year ago was banned from postseason play due to poor academics. They entered this tournament as an overlooked seven-seed. Six wins later, no one's overlooking them any more.
"I said in the beginning, 18 months ago, when we started this thing, 'The last is going to be the first," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. "We was last, and now we're first. But we always did it together."
Napier was even more direct after the game: "This is what happens when you ban us."
Napier, the All-American who promised his mother he'd get his degree before leaving for the NBA, saw his loyalty rewarded.
On Monday, he was the second coming of Kemba Walker, pouring in a game-high 22 points on 8 of 16 shooting. He was the obvious choice for Most Outstanding Player.
Guard Ryan Boatright toughed out an ankle injury to pitch in 14. And forward Niels Giffey added 10.
"I've got a lot of heart," Boatright explained. "We gave up too much this year to give up on ankle sprain. This moment was too big."
It was arguably too big for Kentucky, which became the first team since the 1992 Michigan Wolverines to start five freshmen. And like the Fab Five, they fell just short of the title.
Dooming Kentucky (29-11): its struggles at the line. The Wildcats made just 13 of 24 free-throws on the night -- a haunting reprise of John Calipari's past.
When he was in the title game with Memphis in 2008, the Tigers similarly struggled, and those empty trips kept Kansas in the game -- which current Heat guard Mario Chalmers sent to overtime with a buzzer-beating three.
The Jawhawks ultimately prevailed in overtime. Calipari said he didn't have flashbacks to that game Monday night -- even if everyone else did.
"I've never coached a team this young," Calipari said. "Hope I don't ever again. I think all of these guys are coming back, so we should be good."
He then shot a look through the press room that let everyone knew he was kidding.
Forward James Young was a lot like his Wildcats team as a whole. He scored 20 points, but was inefficient in doing so, missing 8 of 13 shots. Julius Randle, likely headed to the NBA, scored 10 on 3 of 7 shooting.
Still, the game was played at a level worthy of the hype.
The supersized final had an elite guest list. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush sat together in Jerry Jones' box. Darius Rucker sang the National Anthem.
UConn product and current Heat guard Ray Allen was in the building, too. In all, a championship-game record 79,238 filled AT&T Stadium to the brim.
From the start, Connecticut was the quicker, more aggressive team, and shot to a 30-15 lead two-thirds the way through the first half.
Kentucky, meanwhile, was out of sorts on offense and porous on defense. Needing a spark, Calipari switched to a 2-3 zone -- with immediate results.
UConn would score just five points the rest of the half. And Kentucky began finding its touch from deep, getting a pair of three-pointers from both Young and Andrew Harrison. The late flurry cut the deficit to 4 at the break.
Napier poured in 15 first-half points for the Huskies, scoring on 6 of 11 shots. Young had 10 for the Wildcats at the break.
Neither team could do much on offense out of the locker room, missing 16 of their first 19 combined shots. And so, things stayed tight until UConn got hot and stretched the lead to 9.
That's when Young saw enough, throwing down a thunderous, one-handed dunk on Amida Brimah that drew a foul.
Kentucky crept all the way back to within one, when the Connecticut seniors responded. First Napier buried a three, seemingly off one foot. Then Giffey drained another from the top of the key.
All that was left from then on was a couple of stops and a lot of celebrating.
"From the beginning, Coach Ollie told us we had a chance to be on the top if we worked hard," Napier said. "The key words were 'if we worked hard.' We wanted to be on top."