Final, UConn 60-54: In a battle of blue-bloods that pitted cats against dogs, the Huskies are bringing their fourth national championship back to Storrs, Conn.
UConn is the first No. 7 seed to win the title, and they were led by the best player on the court, Shabazz Napier (22 points, six rebounds). The team also combined to go a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line.
The Wildcats had a dismal night at the charity stripe, making just 15-of-34 attempts, and it might have cost them the game. While Kentucky continued to battle back, coming within one point on a couple of different occasions, they never led in the game.
Julius Randle’s pedestrian performance (10 points, six rebounds) might provide more ammo for “one-and-done” critics who believe athletes should spend more time playing at the college level before heading to the NBA.
The Huskies enjoy their first national title won under a coach not named Jim Calhoun, and Napier ends his college career with another championship win.
2nd Half, 1:49 UConn 58-52: In a game that the Wildcats were supposed to dominate from a rebounding perspective, they might have missed one of the most important.
UConn missed a shot with under two minutes to go, but grabbed the offensive board and are in no rush to take a shot with a full shot clock. Their excellent free throw shooting will be important coming down the stretch.
2nd Half, 3:47 UConn 56-52: Instead of one three-pointer, the Huskies get two. Shabazz Napier and Niels Gieffey each hit a three on consecutive trips down the floor.
An uncharacteristic turnover from Napier doesn’t end up hurting the Huskies, as the Wildcats missed the subsequent one-and-one free throw attempt. After a dazzling, rainbow jumper from Ryan Boatright, Kentucky again steals some momentum back with a loud, two-handed putback jam from Alex Poythress.
Unsurprisingly, Poythress misses his free throw and UConn still leads by four.
2nd Half, 7:54 UConn 48-47: It’s shaping up to be an intense finale between these two teams.
UConn is hanging on, but just barely. It feels like one big three by the Huskies could help ignite their offense, but right now the Wildcats’ James Young is proving to be the catalyst.
He’s been to the line a number of times in the second half and is making big play after big play for his team. It seems like the Wildcats are poised to take their first lead of the night.
2nd Half, 9:00 UConn 48-45: James Young’s dunk on UConn’s Amida Brimah could prove to be the spark Kentucky is looking for. Young completed the three-point play with a successful free throw, and the momentum is decidedly on the Wildcats’ side.
The swing in swagger is doubly dangerous for UConn now that Ryan Boatright could be injured. It looks like he rolled his ankle after elevating to grab a pass, and he called timeout just seconds afterwards. He’ll remain on the floor, but the ankle will be something to keep an eye on.
The Huskies are going to have to withstand the momentum swing and get back to playing their style of basketball before the rest of their lead evaporates.
2nd Half, 11:39 UConn 46-39: UConn’s switch to a two-three zone is turning the game into somewhat of a stalemate, but the Huskies look to have a small edge so far.
Kevin Ollie’s team is also being aided by some poor free throw shooting by the Wildcats, who at one point missed five straight attempts as a team.
The Huskies went for another tepid scoreless stretch, but a corner three from Niels Gieffey is encouraging for UConn fans, as is Ryan Boatright’s latest steal and attempted layup. He’s fouled on the play, and doesn’t struggle in burying his free throws.
2nd Half, 15:14 UConn 37-36: The Huskies are just one-for-six from the field so far in the second half, and the Wildcats look to be dictating the tempo of the game.
Shabazz Napier continues to play well for the Huskies, but he passed up on what appeared to be a pretty wide open corner three, and UConn wasn’t able to score during the rest of the possession.
While UConn is leading in rebounds at the moment, don’t be surprised if that statistic doesn’t hold up.
2nd Half, 18:30 UConn 37-34: Aaron Harrison opens the second half with a three to draw Kentucky within one, but Ryan Boatright’s answer at the other end is just filthy.
A smooth dribble and step-back jumper from above the free throw line keeps the Huskies ahead for now.
Halftime, UConn 35-31: At halftime, the Huskies’ lead — once as large as 15 points — has dwindled to four.
Shabazz Napier broke his team’s scoreless streak of almost five minutes with an amazing, contorting layup towards the end of the first half. He’s tallied 15 points so far. his counterpart in the backcourt, Ryan Boatright, has eight points to this point.
Kentucky’s star Julius Randle had an answer, however, as he tallied his first basket from the floor with close to a minute left, and then had a chance for a traditional three-point play with 2.9 seconds left.
Randle missed the free throw, but the Wildcats are right back in it with 20 minutes left to play. Forward James Young is contributing too with 10 points in the first half.
1st Half, 2:24 UConn 33-26: Unsurprisingly, the Wildcats are battling their way back into this game.
Back-to-back threes and a confused UConn offense are helping Kentucky crawl back into striking distance — their 11-3 run in the last 2:50 have put them within seven points with just over two minutes to play in the first half.
UConn is relying on the deep ball early, having already attempted nine three point shots in the game. Against Florida, they attempted only five in the whole game.
1st Half, 5:08 UConn 30-20: Kentucky was facing its largest deficit of the tournament at 15 points, but a jumper and breakaway dunk from Andrew Harrison makes the Huskies lead to 10. The Wildcats switched to a zone defense, and it’s changed the rhythm of the game.
1st Half, 7:15 UConn 26-15: Maybe Julius Randle is fine after all. His block on UConn’s DeAndre Daniels was impressive, and he looks to be running the floor pretty well.
Kentucky is shooting just 31 percent from the field, but they’re no strangers to coming from behind. Shabazz Napier is playing like a star and has hit a couple deep threes, although his latest was answered by a three from Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison.
DeAndre Daniels’ nifty move down low and step-back jumper is good, and UConn’s defense continues to stifle Kentucky’s attack down low.
1st Half, 11:20 UConn 19-10: It appears Julius Randle is dealing with cramps, as he’s back to the Wildcats’ bench.
The good news for Wildcat fans is that their team is remaining competitive in his absence. Alex Poythress’ put-back dunk migh thave put a little more life into his team, though Ryan Boatright followed the dunk with a quick pull-up jumper to answer for the Huskies.
1st Half, 13:08 UConn 17-8: Amida Brimah has come off the Huskies’ bench and had an immediate impact, ripping down a couple rebounds as the Huskies continue to use the transition game to their advantage.
Shabazz Napier doesn’t seem phased with Julius Randle guarding him after Randle came back to the game right around the 15 minute mark, nailing a deep three from the middle of the three point arc.
Kentucky is struggling to score, going four minutes without tallying a bucket. Meanwhile, they’ve given away a couple easy layups to UConn, leading to the Huskies stretching their lead to nine.
1st Half, 15:42 tied 6-6: UConn has played some tenacious defense so far, creating turnovers for easy transition buckets.
Kentucky has already found success inside, attacking the Huskies’ defense from the top of the key. One thing to keep an eye on will be Julius Randle’s ankle, which he rolled before the game. He came out after the first two minutes and 50 seconds.
If he’s not at 100 percent, Kentucky will be in trouble.
9:14 p.m.: The game is underway from AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas as Kentucky and UConn battle for the national championship.
9:00 p.m.: As game-time approaches, here are a couple of interesting facts to keep in mind during tonight’s contest.
First, the UConn Huskies are 15-1 this season when Shabazz Napier records six or more assists. A talented scorer, Napier could prove to be just as dangerous if he can help his teammates get buckets.
For Kentucky, Julius Randle has been a force for the majority of the season. With an NBA-ready body, Randle rebounds well on each end of the court. In fact the Wildcats previous game against Wisconsin was the first in the tournament that he failed to record a double-double.
Alongside teammate Dakari Johnson, Randle and the Wildcats should boast a hefty advantage in rebounding. They’ll also be helped by the Huskies woeful numbers on the boards. UConn ranks 206th in offensive rebounding percentage and 247th in defensive rebounding percentage.
8:30 p.m.: The two head coaches facing off tonight have some interesting strategies and backgrounds.
In the last nine years, Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari has been to seven Elite Eights and four Final Fours. While his strategy of recruiting freshmen who tend to leave after just one year of college hoops has come under scrutiny, it’s become a pretty successful strategy, if nothing else.
On the other bench, Kevin Ollie is trying to lead the Huskies to their fourth national championship, but first under a coach not named Jim Calhoun. It’s just Ollie’s second season at the helm of UConn basketball, but the former NBA journeyman has found a way to lead his team to familiar territory.
8:19 p.m.: A year ago, neither of these teams even participated in the NCAA tournament. This year, one will walk away a champion.
Both the University of Kentucky and the University of Connecticut are no strangers to success. Combined, the programs have won six of the last 18 championships, three apiece. Tonight, they’ll have a chance to earn their fourth.
The matchup between the seventh-seeded Huskies and eighth-seeded Wildcats should prove to be an entertaining one. They are teams of opposites, with Kentucky relying on Julius Randle and its frontcourt to crash the boards and earn easy buckets.
Ranked second in offensive rebounding percentage, Kentucky’s scored at least 74 points in its last four games.
If the Wildcats have a weakness, it could lie in the fact that, in the last four games, they’ve allowed their opponents to shoot almost 50 percent from the field and average 72.5 points per game. But with the talented core of freshmen headlined by Randle, Kentucky hasn’t really had to worry about being outscored.
UConn, however, could pose an interesting test for the Wildcats. Shabazz Napier has had an incredible year for the Huskies and is averaging 21 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.8 steals per game in the tournament.
Combined with the versatile Ryan Boatright and big man DeAndre Daniels, Head Coach Kevin Ollie has a wealth of talent that he must hope will be able to outmaneuver the significantly larger Wildcats.
Game coverage begins at 9:10 p.m. on CBS.
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