Upperclassmen lead Huskies to NCAA title
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Connecticut’s upperclassmen were too much for the kids of Kentucky.
Poised and experienced, UConn won its second national championship in four years, outlasting Kentucky and its stable of freshmen Monday night.
UConn (32-8) dominated early, withstood a big charge late in the first half and made all the clutch plays down the stretch of a 60-54 victory that made Kevin Ollie the first coach since Michigan’s Steve Fisher in 1989 to win a national title in his first NCAA tournament as coach.
Shabazz Napier, the dynamic senior point guard, led the way as he almost always does, finishing with 22 points, six rebounds and three assists to bookend his career with national titles.
Gritty junior Ryan Boatright fought through a turned ankle in the second half to scored 14 points. Niels Giffey, another member of the `11 team, found his shooting touch just in time, scoring 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
It was sweet redemption for a team that had been repeatedly dismissed since winning the 2011 national title.
The Huskies weren’t given a chance when Jim Calhoun retired and sanctions kept them out of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
They were discounted after being blown out by Louisville in the regular-season finale and losing to the Cardinals again in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
But the Huskies are a resilient bunch and used what they believed to be slights as chip-on-their-shoulder motivation.
They certainly were in the national championship game against Kentucky (29-11), relying on their tried-and-true elder statesmen against all those blue-blood freshmen coming off the other bench.
Napier and Boatright were a dynamic duo early, slashing and dashing through Kentucky’s defense for layups and 3-pointers while UConn built a 15-point lead.
Kentucky’s young Cats whittled the lead down to four by halftime behind their athleticism and a zone that seemed to flummox the Huskies.
UConn dug down when the game got tight and physical, answering every time Kentucky tried to mount a run.
Boatright was injured midway through the second half, rolling his left ankle after taking a pass. He got worked on by the trainers during a timeout and returned, still limping and grimacing.
After a couple of pats on the head by Ollie, he kept charging at the Wildcats, driving to the basket, bellying up on Kentucky’s guards and hitting a big step-back jumper in the closing minutes.
Giffey, a freshman on the 2011 title team, had not been able to find his stroke during the NCAA tournament. A 49 percent shooter from 3-point range, he was 3 of 15 from the arc through the first four games, including 0 for 2 in the national semifinals against Florida.
The senior came up big when the Huskies needed him, hitting a pair of 3s in the second half.
And, of course, there was Napier.
Kemba Walker’s understudy during the `11 title run, he proved he could be the leader who gets the ring, hitting 8 of 16 shots, 4 of 9 from 3-point range and playing the kind of all-around game that would make his mentor proud.