The Connecticut Huskies played their fourth ever national championship game against the KentuckyWildcats on April 7. The Huskies used to be one of the biggest near-miss programs in college basketball, yet that hasn't been the case in the last 15 years. In all but one Final Four appearance, Connecticut has been perfect -- and it was all but perfect again in a 60-54 win over Kentucky.
The Huskies never trailed in this national championship game, although they sweated a bit after taking a 30-15 lead. Despite being down, the Wildcats seemed to have the Huskies where they wanted them, since they rallied in their last four NCAA tournament victories. As per usual, a late first half flurry put Kentucky back in range, as Connecticut merely led by 35-31 at halftime after dominating the first 20 minutes.
The Wildcats looked poised to take the lead at any minute, like they did against the Wichita State Shockers, Louisville Cardinals, Michigan Wolverines and Wisconsin Badgers. But although the Huskies were ice cold to start the second half, they stayed ahead anyway.
Connecticut took advantage of Kentucky's missed opportunities to go back ahead by nine points, only to have the lead cut back down to one within minutes. However, thanks to clutch three-pointers by Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey on the Huskies' next two possessions, the Wildcats never got that close again.
Without Aaron Harrison's usual late three-point heroics, Kentucky couldn't pull off another last-second miracle. Without anyone but James Young delivering for 40 minutes, Connecticut was bent but not broken. Most of all, the difference was made by 11 missed Wildcats free throws and a perfect 10-for-10 performance from the line by the Huskies.
This was Connecticut's first Final Four and national championship game without Jim Calhoun, who built the Huskies into a decorated power. But after Calhoun's retirement in 2012 and a one-year postseason ban for poor academics in 2013, successor and Connecticut alum Kevin Ollie had his work cut out for him -- even before being handed a No. 7 seed in this NCAA tournament.
Yet when the Huskies got to the big stage, they delivered for the fourth time, improving to 8-1 in their Final Four history. Aside from their 2009 semifinal loss to the Michigan State Spartans, the accompanying list showcases the otherwise perfect history of the Huskies in college basketball's final weekend.
Calhoun's first Final Four
1999 semifinals: Connecticut 64, Ohio State Buckeyes 58 -- After years of near misses, Jim Calhoun and the Huskies finally made it to the Final Four in 1999. They celebrated by holding off second half rallies from the upset minded Buckeyes, although the Huskies would be the underdogs soon enough.
2004 semifinals: Connecticut 79, Duke 78 -- The Huskies first Final Four game in five years appeared to be one of vengeance for the Blue Devils, who dominated the game until there were under three minutes left. In an instant, Emeka Okafor and Connecticut pulled off a 12-0 run to steal a victory, as well as a national championship.
2011 semifinals: Connecticut 56, Kentucky Wildcats 55 -- Shabazz Napier closed his Connecticut career by beating Kentucky in the Final Four, after beginning it the same way. In this case, Napier was an mere freshman who still had a clutch basket and free throws in the final minutes, as the Huskies won this defensive struggle over the Wildcats.
Kemba completes run
2011 national title game: Connecticut 53, Butler Bulldogs 41 -- Kemba Walker officially entered Connecticut and NCAA tournament legend, once the Huskies completed the unlikely run he led towards Calhoun's last national championship. However, little else about the actual title game was legendary in a good way.
Huskies upset Gators
2014 semifinals: Connecticut 63, Florida Gators 53 -- The seventh seeded Huskies pulled off their biggest Final Four upset to date, as Niels Giffey and company made the No. 1 ranked, unbeaten for four months Gators look hapless after an early 16-4 deficit.