Well, it's only fitting that we have two underrated teams in the National Championship. The Tournament started out with what seemed perfect seeding, but through the Tournament, we have seen upset, after upset, after upset. Now, we have the highest seeded National Championship in the history of College Basketball.
The 7 seeded Connecticut Huskies and 8 seeded Kentucky Wildcats were matched up in the Championship game Monday night. Coming into the game, Kentucky was favorable in the post (When were they not?), but UConn's quick guards were also favored in match ups.
At the start of the game, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright demonstrated how big of an advantage they had in the back court. UConn jumped out to a big, 30-15 lead 15 minutes into the game, with domination from their guards.
Napier and Boatright scored 18 of their 30 points, during the run, and UConn was able to run on the fast break. UConn out scored Kentucky 10-0 on the fast break, grabbed 4 steals, and shot 12 for 22 from the field. On defense, The Harrison twins were struggling to bring the ball up the court, and Julius Randle's ankle was bothering him. Overall, during the 15 minute Kentucky struggle, Kentucky had 6 turnovers, shot 5/17 from the field, and looked very panicked.
The 15 point deficit was the largest first half deficit for Kentucky throughout the entire Tournament.
However, this was not Kentucky's first experience in being down early in games. The past 4 games this Tournament, Kentucky, at one point, was down by at least 8 points! Each game Kentucky was able to come back, and win the game.
The main question now was if they could do it again! It looked bleak, as Julius Randle couldn't play at 100%, the Harrison twins were turning the ball over and not making plays, and the quick guards of UConn were unstoppable on offense. However, John Calipari made a great coaching move to try to slow down the game:
He implemented a zone. UConn was blowing past defenders and knocking down wide open three's versus a man-to-man, but with a zone, Kentucky's length had a favorable match up. As soon as Kentucky started playing zone, it was evident that the UConn guards were unfamiliar to such a zone.
UConn threw away 3 turnovers, shot 2/6, and was on the disappointing side of a 16-5 run to end the half. Kentucky had managed to slow the game down, and more importantly, slow down UConn's guards.
On the opposite side of the court, Kentucky was finally starting to gain momentum. Kentucky shot 6/8, make 3 three's, and grabbed 3 steals to end the half, and reduce the deficit to only 4 points! Julius Randle and Aaron Harrison were still struggling, but Aaron's twin, Andrew, ended half with 8 points and 4 assists. His assisting let James Young to hit wide open three's, and end half with 10 points.
The Kentucky Wildcats had started out troubled, but Calipari led a run at the end of the half to reduce the UConn lead to only 4 points. Kentucky walked into half with momentum, and a close, 35-31 deficit.
Key to Kentucky's late second half run:
Andrew Harrison play making leading to open shots and three's
In the second half, the Huskies put a stop to UK's run. Connecticut forced the Wildcats to shoot 2/8 from the field for the first 8 minutes of the game, for only 8 points. Although Kentucky had energy on offense and defense, they could not finish.
A major factor in their shooting came from the referees. During the first 5 minutes of the second half, the refs really let the players just play basketball. They swallowed their whistles and called few fouls. The rough and tough play led to the teams shooting a combined 3 for 14 through the first five minutes.
Both teams were fighting to make a shot, but neither could do it! UConn was visibly frustrated, as one point in the game, Shabazz Naper shoved his own teammate, Ryan Boatright, to continue running the offense.
Kentucky then had the perfect chance to take over the game, and take the lead! They were only down one point and UConn was struggling and frustrated! However, despite all the chances, UK was unable to convert and take the lead.
UConn then regained momentum, settled down, and (Hold on to your hats) took advantage of UK's inability to take advantage. UConn pushed the lead to 9 points with them scoring on 4 straight possessions. UConn then had the 48-39 lead, as they were one point away from stretching the lead to double digits!
UConn was ready to slide to a National Championship!
Not so fast.
James Young made a spectacular play with 11 minutes left in the game, as he went to his left, flew down the lane, and slammed it over the entire Huskies basketball team! The Wildcats went nuts, and it was an obvious momentum shifter.
Counting the dunk, and the "and-one" free throw, Kentucky proceeded to go on a 8-0 run and trim the deficit to one point. James Young was the major contributor during the run, as he scored 6 of the 8 points, and of course, had the magnificent dunk.
On the other side of the court, Ryan Boatright was hobbling on an injured ankle, Shabazz was struggling, and UConn had missed 5 straight field goals!
At this point, Kentucky was down by 48-47, and trying to gain the first lead of the entire game! However, like the entire first half, and early second half, UK was unable to take advantage, and take the lead. UConn came right back and UConn and hit 2 straight three pointers. Kentucky continued to score, but Connecticut looked ready to take over the game.
However, like the entire first half and early second half, UConn was unable to take advantage, and put the game out of reach. Shabazz had some explanatory turnovers and mental mistakes, and UK had big plays from Randle and the big men.
Unfortunately for UK, they were facing the most highly motivated team in the nation (It also kind of helps that they shoot free throws). The Huskies realized they were facing an unbelievable talented team, but they did not care. The Huskies kept the lead above 4 points for the last 4 minutes of the game. The Huskies made free throw after free throw (10-10 for game) and finished the National Championship game with a 60-54 win.
The Connecticut Huskies, who I now greatly respect, have defeated the Kentucky Wildcats! Congratulations to the UConn Huskies, sorry UK.