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Pre-championship game preview: Kentucky

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: theday.com

Published April 07. 2014 5:00PM   Updated April 07. 2014 5:46PM

Only hours before the national championship starts here at AT&T Stadium.

UConn and Kentucky, two college basketball heavyweights, will square off at 9:10 p.m.

The Huskies will attempt to win the program’s fourth national title tonight. They already have more championships victories (three) since 1999 than any other program. Duke has two (2001, 2010) as does North Carolina (2005, 2009) and Florida (2006, 2007).

A year removed from watching the tournament from home due to a post-season ban, UConn is

"I just feel like all the trials and tribulations that we have been through throughout last season and this season just has prepared us for this moment," sophomore Phil Nolan said.

Here’s a pre-championship game preview:

--  Records: Seventh-seeded UConn, 31-8; eighth-seededKentucky. 29-10

-- Road to title game: UConn beat 10th seed Saint Joseph’s (89-81 OT), 2nd seed Villanova (77-65), 3rd seed Iowa St. (81-76), 4th seed Michigan State (60-54), top seed Florida (63-53)

Kentucky defeated 9th seed Kansas State (56-49), top seed Wichita St. (78-76), 4th seed Louisville (74-69), 2nd seed Michigan (75-72), 2nd seed Wisconsin (74-73)

Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (17.9 pts, 5.8 rebs, 4.9 assists), 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.1 pts, 3.4 assists), 6-9 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (13.2 pts, 6.0 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Niels Giffey (8.4 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-10 so. center Phil Nolan (3.4 pts, 2.4 rebs)

Kentucky, 6-6 fr. guard Andrew Harrison (10.9 pts, 3.9 assists), 6-6 fr. guard Aaron Harrison (13.9 pts), 6-6 fr. forward James Young (14.2 pts, 4.2 rebs), 6-9 fr. forward Julius Randle (15.1 pts, 10.5 rebs, 7-0 fr. center Dakari Johnson (5.2 pts, 3.9 rebs)

 Noteworthy:

 -- UConn is undefeated in its three previous title game trips, winning in 1999, 2004 and 2011. Two victories came in Texas (San Antonio, Houston).

Kentucky is making 12th appearance, last winning in 2012.

-- The Wildcats are undefeated in the NCAA post-season since losing to UConn in 2011 national semifinals. They own an 11-game tournament winning streak.

The Huskies are 11-1 in last 12 NCAA games.

-- Series: UConn leads, 3-1, winning last two.

-- Player to watch: Randle, one of the top freshmen in country. Nolan may need some help to defend the powerful 250-pound forward. Randle needs four rebounds to set a Kentucky freshman record and pass Anthony Davis (415).

"He's a pretty strong guy," Nolan said. "(I'm going to) just try to keep him off the glass."

-- Top reserve: 6-8 so. forward Alex Poythress (5.9 pts, 4.5 rebs).

-- Statistic to watch: second chance points. Kentucky averages 15.5 per game.

-- Hot: Kentucky is sinking 48 percent from field in NCAA games. Cold: UConn defense held last two opponents to a combined 39 percent.

-- The Huskies own NCAA best winning percentage (87.5) in Final Four at 7-1.

-- Napier on playing in his second national title game: "We worked so hard to get to this point, and we just continue to believe in each other. It's just so surreal to be back here."

Napier, Giffey and fellow senior Tyler Olander are the only UConn players to go to two national championship games in their careers.

-- Daniels is averaging 17.6 points during the NCAA run.

-- The Wildcats are first team ever to win four straight games by five points or fewer in tourney.

-- Kentucky has seven freshmen in its rotation, including all five starters.

-- Olander on how the team's tight bond has helped UConn reach this point: "When you stick together, anything can happen."

-- Should be a lot more Kentucky fans here tonight than UConn fans.

-- Expect another UConn family reunion tonight, as former players and coaches flock to watch the Huskies play for the title.

-- Check back later for a post-game breakdown and video. Follow me on Twitter @GavinKeefe for regular updates.

 

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