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UConn beats Kentucky 60-54 to win fourth NCAA championship

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published April 08. 2014 4:00AM   Updated April 08. 2014 7:51AM
David J. Phillip/AP Photo
UConn's Ryan Boatright, center, clutches the basketball and Kentucky's Andrew Harrison, left, walks away as time runs out in UConn's 60-54 victory over Kentucky on Monday night in the NCAA championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It was the program's fourth national title since 1996 and first for second-year coach Kevin Ollie.

Arlington, Texas - Pure mayhem ensued the second the buzzer sounded.

The release of a wave of emotion seemed fitting for a UConn basketball team that preserved through a painful postseason ban last season to reach the NCAA tournament mountain top.

The character-testing journey from last season ended with UConn beating Kentucky 60-54 in the national championship game before a Final Four record crowd of 79,238 at AT&T Stadium. The Huskies won their fourth national title and remained undefeated as a program in college basketball's biggest game.

During the postgame celebration, All-American Shabazz Napier took command of the microphone much as he did the championship game, scoring a game-high 22 points and earning most outstanding player honors.

"This is what happens when you ban us," Napier yelled to the crowd.

This also is what happens when the Huskies embrace the underdog role and are determined to prove doubters wrong.

"It took an unbelievable team," junior Ryan Boatright said. "It took a special team. … Everybody doubted us. We stuck together and pulled this national championship out."

Coach Kevin Ollie's faith never wavered.

"They have been amazing and resilient the whole year," Ollie said. "But I keep telling you, it started 18 months ago when they kept believing and they stayed loyal to the program. It's just a wonderful feeling to hold that trophy up and do it the right way."

Ollie led Huskies (32-8) on an impressive march through the postseason capped off by Monday's terrific performance. UConn never trailed, played disruptive defense and won the battle of the boards (34-33) against a powerful Kentucky frontcourt.

Napier and Boatright, UConn's dynamic and tenacious backcourt duo, controlled the game. Boatright finished with 14 points while senior Niels Giffey (10 points) also scored in double figures. Napier, Giffey and Tyler Olander became the first UConn players to capture two national titles in their career, also winning in 2011.

Boatright and Daniels earned a spot on the All-Final Four team.

The Huskies made every big play after watching a 15-point first half lead shrink to one in the second half. They are first number seven seed to win a title, completing a magical run that included an upset of top-seeded Florida in the national semifinals on Saturday.

UConn fended off every challenge and adversity in the form of foul trouble.

Clinging to a slim lead, Daniels went to the bench with his third foul at the 10-minute mark and a minute later Boatright called time when he twisted his ankle in the open court. UConn's lead stood at 48-45. And then Nolan picked up his fourth foul, joining fellow big man Amida Brimah on the bench.

"We had guys in foul trouble and we had guys come in and step up," Daniels said. "Everybody just kept fighting. And our guards were tremendous. They kept us in the game."

Boatright stayed in the game and the Huskies went to small lineup. UConn extended a one-point lead to 54-49 when Napier and Giffey buried 3-pointers.

"I got a lot of heart, and I wasn't coming out," Boatright said. "We put in too much work all year for me to give up on an ankle sprain. This moment was too big."

When the eight-seeded Wildcats cut the gap to 54-50 with 5:04 left, Boatright beat the shot clock with a short jumper. Napier set up Daniels inside to push the lead to 58-52. Reserve Lasan Kromah closed out the historic win by sinking two free throws with 25 seconds remaining as the Huskies went 10-for-10 from the line.

UConn's defense limited Kentucky to 39 percent from the field overall and allowed just two field goals in the final 6:36. The Wildcats had won 11 straight NCAA games coming in.

The Huskies looked comfortable playing on the national stage at the start, using their quickness advantage on both ends to build a 30-15 lead. They scored 11 points off of seven turnovers.

Boatright attacked off the dribble and Napier fired away from the perimeter, helping fuel a 20-9 run. They combined for 23 points, including 15 by Napier, before intermission.

Momentum began to swing in Kentucky's favor when Daniels and then Boatright each picked up a second foul. Both starters helplessly watched from the bench for the last 4:19.

The Wildcats switched to zone and started hitting 3-pointers. Randle scored the last four points of a 16-5 run that cut UConn's lead to 35-31 at the break.

Both teams have made a habit of mounting comebacks during NCAA tournament play, so no lead could be considered safe.

The Huskies weren't going to be denied, though. They had waited too long and overcome too much to let a national championship slip away.

"Somebody told me we were Cinderellas," Ollie said. "And I was like, No, we're UConn. this is what we do. We are born for this. We;re bred to cut down nets. ... (Last year) we couldn't get in the tournament, but they kept believing. That's what it's all about."

g.keefe@theday.com

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