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Wildcats have no more late magic left for national title game

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The Kentucky Wildcats started the national championship game terribly and perfectly on April 7. Although the Wildcats were down by as many as 15 points to the Connecticut Huskies, it fit their NCAA tournament and Final Four formula to a t. It indeed looked like Kentucky would have another comeback to cap its national championship run, yet Connecticut didn't crumble en route to a 60-54 victory.

The Wichita State Shockers, Louisville Cardinals, Michigan Wolverines and Wisconsin Badgers all took early leads over the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament. They all gave up late first half runs to give Kentucky hope, then eventually gave up the rest of their leads in the second half.

When the Huskies went up by 30-15 and then by 33-20, only to merely lead by 35-31 at halftime, everything was falling into place for the Wildcats. Once Kentucky repeatedly got within one or two points, it appeared inevitable that it would get over the hump again, winning the national championship the only way it could.

It might have turned out that way, if the Wildcats hadn't missed 11 free throws. It might have ended that way if anyone but James Young delivered on offense. It also might have helped if Kentucky didn't come up empty on several late possessions, and gave a few less three-pointers to Connecticut.

Although the Huskies were cold to start the second half, the Wildcats missed their window of opportunity to take control. Their last chance came when they closed the gap back to one point, on an 8-0 run started by a statement dunk from Young. But when the Huskies bent, Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey hit three-pointers to keep them unbroken, and the Wildcats' missed baskets and free throws finished the job from there.

Kentucky could have easily been out of gas after their exhaustive NCAA tournament run. Yet the Huskies basically took the Wildcats out of their tempo, like they did to the Michigan State Spartans and Florida Gators. They were riding as high as possible before they met the Huskies, but their fall back down was nothing compared to the Wildcats.

A national championship was considered inevitable for Kentucky in the preseason, and then it became a longshot before looking inevitable again. But the pendulum finally swung back against the Wildcats, with no rallies or Aaron Harrison three-pointers left to bail them out.

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