UConn Huskies Put Away Kentucky 60-54 to Win National Championship
“Unbelievable man. One word. Unbelievable.”
This is what junior guard Ryan Boatright had to say about what had just happened on the court in AT&T Stadium.
The University of Connecticut Huskies pulled off a six-point win over the University of Kentucky Wildcats, capturing the program’s fourth national title since 1999, making it the most for any school over the 16-year period.
“It feels great,” UConn Head Coach Kevin Ollie said. “But I keep telling you, it started 18 months ago when [the team] kept believing and they stayed loyal to the program.”
Backed by a 22 point, six rebound performance by senior point guard Shabazz Napier, UConn willed its way to the sound of the buzzer that would officially dub them champions.
It was nothing short of an easy win for the Huskies. A record-breaking crowd of 79,238 featured a large Kentucky fan base that helped carry Kentucky’s momentum during their key runs of the game.
The UConn guards came out hungry in the first half. Boatright and Napier played suffocating defense that led to six early Kentucky turnovers and helped UConn extend its lead to 15, the largest lead in the game.
But behind the energy of the crowd and a troubling zone defense that had UConn taken aback, Kentucky closed it with a 16-5 run that cut the Huskies lead to a measly four points going into the locker room at half-time.
During the Kentucky run, Boatright, the team’s defensive leader through the whole tournament, sat on the bench with two fouls, and DeAndre Daniels joined him with two as well.
The second half had both teams trading baskets, and things looked up for Kentucky after a monster slam-dunk from freshman James Young, who led his team in scoring with 20 points. Not to mention, the foul woes continued for UConn. Centers Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan racked up the fouls, putting Kentucky in the bonus for most of the half.
“We had guys in foul trouble and we had guys come in and step up and do the little things and boxing out and then rebounding,” junior forward DeAndre Daniels said. “But everybody just kept fighting.”
Some of those guys included senior Niels Giffey who had a rough shooting start, but turned it on at the right moments for the Huskies, including hitting a huge three-point shot with about six minutes to go to put UConn ahead by five points.
“He’s been shooting over 50 percent the whole year from three,” Ollie said. “So I know it was just a matter of time that he relaxed his shoulders, hold his follow through, just what he’s been doing the whole year.”
From there, UConn held on behind the leadership of Napier and a key play by UConn’s Lasan Kromah, who pump-faked to get Kentucky defenders up in the air and got sent to the line with 25 seconds remaining in the game, pushing the lead to six.
Not even a Harrison three-pointer could save Kentucky this game. Kromah had hit the dagger at the line, and just like that, UConn had won it all.
There were points where UConn’s shots weren’t falling thanks to the perimeter pressure Kentucky’s zone defense put on the shooters, but ultimately the freshmen could not prevail, showing their nerves at the free throw line where they only shot 54 percent.
UConn on the other hand went 10-10 at the line giving them a key advantage in the final minutes of the game.
“Late you could say why not foul?” Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said explaining his team’s final stretch on the court. “Because they didn’t miss any free throws. They weren’t going to miss a free throw.”
Both teams were in the underdog position coming into this tournament. They each made an improbable run that led them to the big stage in Texas and had them coming in as the highest combined seeds in NCAA Tournament history. In the end, only one could be the Cinderella.
“We worked so hard for this,” Napier said. “We didn’t want to lose it. We worked so hard. So here we go, celebrating.”