Now, this is madness!
Led by Shabazz Napier, who led all scorers with 22 points, the UConn Huskies won their sixth straight game in the only season that counts with a 60-54 victory over Kentucky. Ryan Boatright added 14 points for the Huskies, who captured their fourth national championship, putting them in rarefied air. Only Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky. UCLA—and now, Connecticut—have won as many as four national championships.
James Young led the Wildcats with 20 points. Julius Randle (10) was the only other Kentucky player to score in double digits.
The Huskies, who never trailed, ultimately won the game at the charity stripe where the Huskies were a perfect 10-for-10. That forced Kentucky to go for a steal at the end of the game rather than send Connecticut to the line.
"We couldn't foul late," explained Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who led Memphis to the National Championship game in 2008 before ultimately losing to Kansas. "I know people are asking 'Why didn't you foul? "Because they're not missing. Those guards never miss. Our best chance was a two-possession game: stop and make a basket, timeout, you know, try to steal. That was our best chance. And we had our chance. We just, you know, missed the shots and free throws we needed to make."
Coach Cal also led UMass into the Final Four in 1996 before the Minutemen lost to—you guessed it—Kentucky in the national semifinals.
The Huskies, who finished the season 32-8, led by 15 with 5:59 left in the first half, and threatened to run away and hid. "No can do," said the Wildcats, who finished the half on a 16-5 run to cut Connecticut's lead to four, 35-31, at intermission.
UConn held on to its slim lead throughout the rest of the game. Kentucky's best chance came with 8:24 remaining in regulation, when Aaron Harrison missed a three-pointer that ould have given Kentucky a one-point lead. Young grabbed the rebound, was fouled by Phil Nolan, and calmly dropped in two from the charity stripe. That cut the Connecticut lead to 48-47.
Tense times in the Nutmeg State.
An 8-3 Husky run reopened a "comfortable" six-point lead with 4:13 left, and the Huskies hung on to win their fourth—and certainly most improbable—National Championship.
"We had guys in foul trouble and we had guys come in and step up and do the little things [like] boxing out and rebounding," said DeAndre Daniels, the star of Connecticut's win over No. 1 Florida in the semifinals. "But everybody just kept fighting."
And as tough as the Husky frontcourt played the taller, more athletic (although far less experienced) Wildcats, the game was won in the backcourt.
"Our guards was tremendous today," continued Daniels, who finished with eight points and six boards. "They kept us in the game. These are the two best guards in the back court in the nation. And throughout the season, guys kept saying, these two right here are not good, they don't play good together, they're not friends, and here they are."
Kentucky finished the season at 29-11. Calipari will likely be back on the recruiting trail this week as at least three—and perhaps all five—of the Kentucky starters will soon be declaring for the NBA draft.
"I told them, I'm proud; don't you hang your head," said Coach Cal. "I said, 'We had our chances to win.' So that's what this is about. I said, 'You know, we marched through this thing and did good stuff. Keep your head up.'"
Napier was named the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament, while Boatright and Daniels were named to the All-Tournament Team.
"He is a great player," said Jim Calhoun, who built the Connecticut basketball program from scratch and recruited this year's seniors, including Napier and Niels Giffey, before retiring two seasons ago. "I think that when [Bridgeport native] Chris Smith came here, the only thing we had was an NIT championship, and Shabazz is like him—he takes it to another level when the teams needs him to. They are great, great players. When you talk Ray [Allen], when you talk about Emeka [Okafor], Kemba [Walker], and now Shabazz Napier, you talk about greatness."
So now the state's eyes turn to the UConn women's team, who face heated rival Notre Dame for the National Championship tonight. Regardless of who wins, it will be a game for the ages. It is the first time in history that two undefeated basketball teams—men's or women's—will play for the National Championsip.
Should the Huskies win tonight, it will be just the second time in history that the same university has won both the men's and women's championships in the first year. The first team to do it? Uh-huh. The Huskies in 19xx.
Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on ESPN.