After all the last second shots, upsets, Cinderella teams and general madness, it all came down to this: UConn and Kentucky for the National Championship.

Neither team was projected to be here, yet neither could exactly be referred to as a true cinderella.

Kentucky is a program with eight championship titles to its credit. Connecticut won three titles in the last fifteen years. Nobody should be fooled by their seeding, these are basketball blue-bloods through and through.

The teams earned their spot in the national title game though exhibiting different skills.

Kentucky got enough offense from their talented group of freshmen to get past Wisconsin. UConn relied on their defense getting three stops in a row (so-called ‘kills’) on five separate occasions against Florida.

The championship game opened with UConn applying their now trademark defense to great effect on the freshmen of Kentucky.

UConn started off attacking the paint against the Wildcats, scoring six straight in the lane to lead off the game. James Young replied for Kentucky by connecting on two free throws and knocking down a jumper.

From there, the Huskies applied their vise-like defense on the Wildcats. Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier harassed the brothers Harrison forcing three Kentucky turnovers in the first five minutes.

The Wildcats were held without a field goal from Young’s jumper with 16:18 left in the half until Alex Poythress had a big putback dunk with 12 minutes remaining in the first period.

The Poythress follow-up slam was only Kentucky’s second offensive rebound of the game. UConn too only had two offensive rebounds to that point.

But with Kentucky shooting 25 percent to UConn’s 53 percent, the lack of boards on the offensive glass was hurting the Wildcats more.

Andrew Harrison hit a midrange jumper before Terrence Samuel answered with a layup. With nine minutes remaining in the half the smaller Connecticut team was outscoring the Wildcats 12-6 in the paint.

Andrew Harrison and Napier traded 3-pointers and DeAndre Daniels followed with a nifty turnaround jumper to extend the Huskies lead to 11 at 26-15.

A pair of Niels Giffey free throws gave UConn their biggest lead of the game at 30-15 with less than six minutes in the half. It was also Kentucky’s largest deficit of the tournament.

That is when Coach Calipari made a change that turned things for his Wildcats.

Kentucky started playing zone defense and it worked, slowing the pace of UConn’s offense. The Wildcats used the momentum they created on the defensive end to go on a 12-3 run.

Fueled by two James Young 3s and five points from Aaron Harrison, the Wildcats clawed their way back into the game.

Both Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels missed most of the last five minutes of the half for the Huskies due to foul trouble, thus opening the door for the Kentucky run.

Julius Randle, who had yet to attempt a field goal, made a layup. On the ensuing Huskie possession, Andrew Harrison picked Terrence Samuel’s pocket and kicked it out to Randle who laid it in at the end of the half. .

UConn held off the Kentucky charge to hold a 35-31 lead at the break. During the season and tournament, Connecticut had a record of 25-3 when leading at the half.

Aaron Harrison and the Wildcats came out attacking in the second half as the young guard opened scoring in the half with a three followed by a driving layup to pull Kentucky within one point.

DeAndre Daniels struggled throughout the game. Whether it was due to inconsistent minutes because of foul trouble or the bright lights in the big game, Daniels was 3-10 from the field after a tip in with 12:18 left in the half.

The tip-in sparked a 9-2 run that saw the Huskies extend their lead to 48-39.

James Young seemed to be the only Wildcat willing to take it to the teeth of the UConn defense. Young scored six in a row for the Wildcats including an absolute monster dunk in traffic that resulted two points and a foul shot.

The dunk woke up his teammates and Kentucky ripped off an 8-0 run to pull back within one at 48-47 with seven minutes to play in the 2013-2014 season.

UConn once again turned to it’s senior leaders. Napier hit a 3 to stem the tide. The 3 would prove to be his last points of the game, but with 22 already in the game, few could have asked for more from the exceptional guard.

After a Randle layup, Giffey hit another 3 to put the UConn lead back to five.

Ryan Boatright hit jumper and Poythress responded for the Wildcats with yet another putback dunk. Poythress was fouled on the follow but was unable to hit the free throw.

The line was a source of woe for the WIldcats. The Poythress miss brought Kentucky to 13-24 from the so-called charity stripe. Contrast that with the Huskies going a perfect 10-10 from the line.

A Daniels layup in traffic gave UConn a seemingly insurmountable six-point lead at 58-52 with 2:47 left.

Kentucky missed four of their final five shots as the Connecticut defense held and the UConn Huskies prevailed for their fourth men’s basketball championship in the last 15 years.

Shabazz Napier was named as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and deservedly so.

The senior guard joined fellow Huskie Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose and Larry Bird as the only players to score 125 points, grab 25 rebounds, and dish out 25 assists in the tournament.

Connecticut became the first team to win the title and be perfect from the free throw line. UConn also set the record for highest free throw percentage in the tournament with a minimum of three games played at 87.8 percent.

Connecticut is also just the second team in tournament history to win its Elite Eight game, Final Four game and National Championship game while holding each of its opponents below 60 points.

In the end, the Huskies and Shabazz Napier proved that senior leadership does count for something.

It was an impressive run from a team that seemingly came out of nowhere to plant their flag at the college basketball mountaintop.


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