Huskies NCAA Champions after 60-54 win over Kentucky.
STORRS: When I introduced myself to Kevin Ollie way back in late October as we entered the fray of UConn men’s basketball coverage, his message was simple.
“I hope we take you on a great run,” Ollie said with a smile.
Well, that smile and warm greeting was particularly prophetic as Ollie and the Huskies have finished that ride in the ultimate way by bringing home a NCAA Tournament Championship after beating Kentucky by a 60-54 score on Monday night in North Texas.
The win, the fourth straight time the Huskies have won a title game that they have played in, came despite what most prognosticators had predicted coming, a Wildcats victory.
This team played that card real well this postseason. The underdog who was highly doubted all along but simply found a way to beat some pretty good Iowa, Michigan State and Florida teams on the way to Jerry World.
Some 79,238 fans packed the football stadium that was transformed into a basketball arena this weekend and saw a young freshman laden Kentucky team feel the pressure early in this one while the older and more experienced team from Storrs roared out to a 19-10 lead half way through the first half.
Shabazz Napier, the kid who decided to stay his senior year, was rewarded with his second title in four years, having gotten to the top of the basketball world with Kemba Walker as a freshman.
He was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player for his efforts that included 22 points, six rebounds and three assists.
The Huskies speed bothered the Wildcats in the first half and as head coach John Calipari alluded to after the game, his team was nervous.
“They are 18-years old,” the coach told reporters both at the half and after the game. “They were playing too fast, they were nervous.”
The Huskies, the seventh seed out of the East Region, got the lead up to 30-15 with six minutes left to play in the half but the Wildcats, who trailed in every post season game they played in, made a run and cut the lead to 35-31 at the half.
Kentucky would get as close as one in the second half on several occasions but could never make that key basket that would give them the lead.
Neils Giffey, who had been cold as ice of late from downtown, nailed a pair of long balls, the first with the lead down to just two at 41-39; the second a top of the key dagger that once again stretched the lead back to five.
Ryan Boatright, whose tenacious defense was a key factor in the UConn run, paired up with Napier to give the Huskies one of the best backcourts in the country all year.
Never did you get the feeling this one was getting away.
As Calipari said, “They were never going to let us take the game from them.”
UConn ends the 2013/2014 campaign with a 32-8 mark, Ollie is now 52-18 in his two years at the helm.
No matter how many picked against them, this team simply refused to listen to anybody but themselves and their head coach.
Consider this ride a great one, thanks for the memories, coach.