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Arlington, Texas – An emotional Ryan Boatright took a brief moment to think of his family in the midst of the post-championship game chaos on Monday.
With confetti falling from the sky, Boatright paused before celebrating with his UConn basketball teammates on the AT&T Stadium court.
"A lot of emotions running through me," Boatright said. "When I got to celebrate with my team I just broke down and dropped to one knee and pointed to the air and thanked God and my cousin and my uncle that passed away."
"I knew if my cousin wasn't murdered and my uncle hadn't passed away, they would be here with me, so they were here in spirit."
Throughout UConn's magical NCAA tournament, Boatright wore his emotions and his competitive heart on his sleeve. He displayed his trademark toughness and tenacity on Monday while helping to lead the Huskies past Kentucky, 60-54, in the national championship game.
It was the program's fourth title, but first for Boatright.
Boatright joined teammates DeAndre Daniels on the All-Final Four team and senior Shabazz Napier earned most outstanding player honors.
"I wouldn't want to share this moment with anybody else," Boatright said. "This team really loves each other and it's real brotherhood and we deserved this."
Boatright finished with 14 points, four rebounds, three steals and three assists and also played disruptive defense. He twisted his ankle dribbling in the open court in the second half, causing him to call a timeout with nine minutes left, but remained in the game.
"I wasn't going to let it stop me playing in the biggest game of my life." Boatright said.
Boatright was non-committal when asked about his future at UConn.
"I really don't know," Boatright said. "I can't tell the future. I'm just enjoying the present. We're going to go back to school and celebrate. We're just going to enjoy the moment right now."
Greatest Husky ever?
Some of Napier's teammates called him the best player ever to wear a uniform at UConn. He deserves to be at least in the discussion after an All-American season.
Napier and fellow seniors Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander are the only players in program history to win two national championships. He scored a game-high 22 points on Monday.
"The guy is amazing," Daniels said. "I think he's the best UConn player ever."
Earlier on Monday, Napier received the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award on Monday morning. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the winner on Sunday.
Napier finishes his career ranked in the top five all-time in several categories, including fourth in scoring. He set the senior season scoring record with 720 points, passing Tony Hanson who had 702 points in 1976-77.
Winning another national title meant more to him than anything else.
"Man, we're the best team in the country," Napier said. "It's not the Shabazz Show. I don't need to be recognized. … It's the University of Connecticut Huskies. We went out there and proved it."
All in the family
The UConn basketball family came out in force for the championship game. Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin stopped by the locker room during the post-game celebration.
Hamilton and El-Amin helped the Huskies win the program's first title in 1999.
"It's exciting, because it's one of those things where you want everybody to have that feeling that you had in '99," Hamilton said. "All the guys that came in before me – Chris Smith, Donyell Marshall and Ray Allen – once we won it, it was like, we did it for them. For those guys that had been trying so hard to win one.
"We were just the first. We felt like once we got coach (Jim Calhoun) one, he was going to win a lot of them. He got an opportunity to win and now he's passed the ring to KO. … Now getting a fourth for our university, c'mon, man, you can't ask for anything better.
"And we aren't finished. This is just the start."
Two of Hamilton's teammates on that 1999 national title team are on Ollie's staff, Ricky Moore and director of basketball operations Kevin Freeman.
Winning the frontcourt battle
Entering the game, UConn was concerned about Kentucky's inside strengthen. The Wildcats dominated at times during their post-season run, but not on Monday night.
UConn won the battle of the boards, 34-33, and allowed just seven second chance points, eight points shy of Kentucky's average. Freshman sensation Julius Randle had just 10 points and six rebounds.
"It was tough, just like the past couple of games with all the other strong, physical bigs," sophomore center Phil Nolan said. "It was a battle. I just felt we were well-prepared for it."
The Huskies rebounded as a team, as Daniels, Napier and Lasan Kromah each had six, while Niels Giffey had five. Their speed helped them overcome a size disadvantage.
"Everybody thought we were going to be out-rebounded by a lot," Daniels said. "That was our main focus. If we rebound, that's when we're at a best and we play UConn basketball."
Daniels held the national championship trophy while answering questions at his locker. He wore a big smile.
"We knew we were going to win this championship," Daniels said.
Daniels played a major role in the Huskies during March Madness. He scored in double figures every game but Monday against Kentucky, battling foul trouble and finishing with eight points on 4-for-14 shooting.
He also significantly improved his NBA draft stock.
"I'm not worried about my future," Daniels said. "I'm just happy right now and I'm just going to spend time with my teammates and just enjoy this moment."
A fitting end
Reserve Lasan Kromah stood at the foul line with a chance to close out the national championship win with 25 seconds left.
"I just took a deep breath, calmed myself and got my thoughts together and just let it go and it felt good," Kromah said.
Kromah capped his one-year at UConn by sinking two free throws in his last act as a college basketball player. After graduating from George Washington, he transferred to UConn to attend graduate school and finish out his eligibility.
It turned out to be a smart choice.
He had four points, six rebounds, two assists and one steal in 20 minutes off the bench on Monday.
"It's crazy," Kromah said. "My last year, this is the best way you can go out with a group of guys like this, great coaches, great fans, great alumni."
News and notes
Coach Kevin Ollie: "Somebody told me we were Cinderellas. And I was like, no, we're UConn." … UConn will hold a championship pep rally at Gampel Pavilion today. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and team is expected to arrive at five. … Sophomore Omar Calhoun, who struggled this season coming off hip surgery and lost his spot in the rotation, plans to return next season. "I want to win the championship again," he said … The Huskies made all 10 free throws and held a third straight NCAA tournament opponent under 40 percent from the field. Kentucky shot 39 percent.