For the fourth time in the last 16 years, the University Of Connecticut Huskies are champions of the college basketball landscape. Just a month after losing in the AAC regular season finale to Louisville by 33-points and just two weeks after an overtime scare against St. Joes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and the rest of the Huskies overcome all of the odds to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats, 60-54, and cement their place in the record books at Connecticut.
Not too bad for a team that missed the tournament all together last season due to academic issues.
The story was set for what looked like Kentucky would come back and win. After all, all the signs looked a lot like the Wildcats last few games where an epic comeback would be needed to get the ‘W’. Unfortunately for Kentucky fans, this time Aaron Harrison wouldn’t be given the chance to hit a game-winning three, like has done in the last two games.
The big story of the game was that the Wildcats were just 13-24 from the free throw line and the Huskies held them to 39.1% shooting from the field. And while Connecticut shot a modest .415 from the field on 22-53 shooting, they were a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. That proved to be the difference maker when the final buzzer sounded. Throughout the tournament, the Huskies shot 101-115 on free throws, which just so happens to be the best percentage ever by a team playing in March.
In the effort, senior leader Shabazz Napier continued the powerful streak he’s been on all tournament. On Monday he had 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. These all added to his totals for the tournament, as he became just the third player ever to score 125 points, grab 25 rebounds and dish out 25 assists during March Madness. He joins the likes of Larry Bird and Derrick Rose, only Napier can add “National Champion” to the list of accolades that the other two can’t.
Since 1999, Connecticut has twice as many national championships as any other team in college and they’ve also never lost in the final game. And they did so on Monday by scoring the second fewest points in a title game. Who owns the record for least amount of points scored in a national championship win? That just so happens to be UCONN as well.
While there was a lot of great things to celebrate in Stores on Monday, the effort certainly was not as bright for Kentucky. The Wildcats have now lost in four NCAA Championship title games. And sure, you have to get there to win, which says a lot for itself. But it may not be the ideal way of being remembered. On top of that, John Calipari now moves to 1-3 in title games, a stain that marks his otherwise very impressive career.
While Kentucky’s freshman class scored 370 points during the tournament, which is the second highest ever by such a class, there is no telling what could happen in the coming months from Kentucky. It’s likely that many of these players will leave for the NBA, leaving Calipari, if he stays, with the job of recruiting a completely new group of different guys.
Less than 24-hours after the men won, Stores will focus their attention to the women’s title game, where the Huskies will take on the Notre Dame Irish in a battle of undefeated. The irony in this is that in 2011, when the men’s team won their last national title, the Irish women knocked off the Huskies women in the Final Four.
However, the only school to ever win both the men’s and women’s basketball championship in the same year? You guessed it. Connecticut in 2004.