Men's Basketball: UConn beats Kentucky to win fourth national championship
Shabazz Napier celebrates after UConn secured its fourth national championship with a 60-54 win over Kentucky. In his final game as a Husky, Napier scored 22 points. JON KULAKOFSKY/The Daily Campus
ARLINGTON, Texas - They were banned from the postseason for a year, deserted by the conference they dominated for years, ignored by the rest. They were doubted and questioned for the three weeks of the NCAA tournament.
And yet, for the fourth time since 1999, the UConn Huskies are the national champions.
UConn was in front from start to finish against Kentucky, bending but never breaking during a 60-54 win in the National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium.
"It's a great feeling," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "It's unbelievable because those guys, my players, stayed with the program."
In his final collegiate game, his record 143rd for the Huskies, Shabazz Napier was the star again. The senior finished with 22 points on 8 of 16 shooting and grabbed six rebounds, as he, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander became the first players in college basketball history to win the championship as freshmen and seniors and the first UConn players with two titles.
After the game, Napier stood in front of a camera on national television and proclaimed, "Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the hungry Huskies. This is what happens."
He was referring to last year's postseason ban.
"When you stop, when you prevent us from trying to go to the postseason, and it wasn't our fault, we worked since that day on," said UConn's fourth-leading scorer in history. "Coach Ollie told us, this is going to be a two-year plan, and since that day on, we believed."
Much like Florida did to them in the national semifinals on Saturday, the Huskies came flying out of the gate against Kentucky. After James Young hit a jumper to make it 6-6, UConn went on a 24-9 run to take a 30-15 lead.
But Kentucky came storming back, ending the half on a 16-5 run of its own to cut UConn's lead to four by the break.
In the second half, the game reached a level of back-and-forth, contested, seemingly ugly basketball that could rival the Huskies' last trip to the final against Butler in 2011. The two teams each shot around 40 percent in the first half, but they combined to make only 11 of 35 field goals in the final 20 minutes.
One of those was a posterizing dunk by Young, a soaring effort over Amida Brimah, UConn's towering freshman center, who picked up his fourth foul on the play. The ensuing free throw cut the Huskies' lead to six with 10:40 to play and forced Ollie to turn to Phil Nolan, who picked up his fourth foul two minutes later.
With Nolan and Brimah at risk of fouling out and DeAndre Daniels sitting on three of his own, Kentucky, who had a distinct height advantage at almost every position, tried to fight its way to the basket. Despite the fact that the Huskies were a couple fouls from total disaster, they stood strong.
"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," Daniels said. "But everybody just kept fighting."
Down by six with 25 seconds to go, the Wildcats turned to Aaron Harrison, who had hit a miraculous last-minute shot three games in a row. His deep three missed by a mile, and his twin brother, Andrew, missed another 3-pointer with nine seconds to go.
On that miss, Ryan Boatright grabbed the rebound and ran down the clock.
"It feels great," Ollie said. "Four national championships, and do this championship with these students, these student-athletes, is amazing. They have been amazing and resilient this whole year."
This journey to a fourth national title began back in September 2012, when Jim Calhoun retired and turned the program over to Ollie, a point guard for the Huskies from 1991-95. Through a postseason ban and a whirlwind of adversity, he guided the Huskies back to the Final Four and back to the title game, where UConn is now 4-0 all time.
At every turn there was doubt. They were doubted against St. Joseph's, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky.
There was also doubt about what a team from Storrs could do back in 1999, when the Huskies went up against Duke, and arguably the greatest team in college basketball history, for the national title.
There is little doubt that like that team, the 2013-14 Huskies shocked the world.
"In Connecticut, we're the only thing in the state, so we always believe," Richard Hamilton said. "I think that the program, with all the stuff that we've done in the past, it makes guys hungry, and thirsty and want to win. So it's an exciting thing."
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