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Wildcats, Huskies finish twin Cinderella runs to national championship

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The Kentucky Wildcats and Connecticut Huskies are the last teams standing in the NCAA tournament and Final Four. With the Wildcats and Huskies meeting for the national championship on April 7, it pairs together two of the most prolific, decorated programs in college basketball. Nevertheless, a Kentucky-Connecticut Final Four finale technically qualifies as the most unlikely national title game of all time.

The Huskies are the lower seed in an NCAA tournament game for the first time since the round of 64, when they nearly lost to the St. Joseph's Hawks. Nevertheless, seventh seeded Connecticut will wear home uniforms in a national title showdown with eighth seeded Kentucky.

In any other year, it wouldn't be out of the blue for the Wildcats and Huskies to be in the final. But in this particular season, Kentucky and Connecticut barely got through the regular season, overcame horrific late losses, rose back up to lose in their conference title games, were underseeded to an unusual degree for them, yet rose to their most unlikely runs ever through the Final Four.

Now it can end with the Wildcats' second national championship in three years, or the Huskies' second in four years. In fact, when Connecticut won its last title in 2011, it beat none other than Kentucky to start the Final Four, before its ugly win over the Butler Bulldogs two nights later.

It was also the last NCAA tournament loss for the Wildcats, who avenged it with their far easier run to the 2012 national championship. Yet in 2013, Kentucky missed the Final Four and the entire tournament altogether, as did Connecticut. The Wildcats missed it because they collapsed on the court, while a poor academic performance off the court from the Huskies led to a one-year tournament ban.

In 2013-14, the Wildcats were expected to reach the Final Four and much more right from the start, while the Huskies merely met expectations by reaching the NCAA tournament. But for once, neither Kentucky nor Connecticut were pegged as favorites when March started -- especially with the way they performed before their conference tournaments.

The accompanying list details how the Wildcats and Huskies made it back to the mountain top anyway, in ways these storied programs -- and the NCAA tournament at large -- have never seen before.

Wildcats' low point in South Carolina
Wildcats' low point in South Carolina Lance King/Getty Images

Wildcats' low point in South Carolina

A disappointing regular season hit rock bottom for the Wildcats when they lost to the sub .500 South Carolina Gamecocks on March 1, as John Calipari got ejected and Julius Randle and his fellow freshman looked like true flops.

Huskies' low point in Louisville
Huskies' low point in Louisville Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Huskies' low point in Louisville

The Huskies had a solid regular season, but looked nothing like champions when they lost by 81-48 to the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals on March 8, in the last game before the AAC conference tournament.

Wildcats' recovery begins in SEC title game
Wildcats' recovery begins in SEC title game Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Wildcats' recovery begins in SEC title game

The first signs of real life for Aaron Harrison and the Wildcats came when they made it to the SEC title game, and nearly rallied to beat the No. 1 Florida Gators on March 16. At the time, it still looked like it would be enough to give Kentucky higher than a No. 8 seed.

Huskies' rise begins in AAC tournament
Huskies' rise begins in AAC tournament Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Huskies' rise begins in AAC tournament

The Huskies recovered from their blowout loss at Louisville to get another shot at the Cardinals in the AAC title game a week later. Nevertheless, Russ Smith and the Cardinals beat them again by only 10 point, although it still looked like it would get the Huskies higher than a No. 7 seed.

Wildcats' first NCAA tournament win
Wildcats' first NCAA tournament win Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Wildcats' first NCAA tournament win

Kentucky faced another team of Wildcats in Kansas State to start the NCAA tournament on March 21. It was the first and last time Kentucky was the higher seed, and it took advantage in a 56-49 defensive struggle -- the easiest victory of the tournament thus far.

Huskies' first NCAA tournament win
Huskies' first NCAA tournament win Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Huskies' first NCAA tournament win

Connecticut was a popular pick to get upset against the A-10 champion St. Joseph's Hawks in its NCAA tournament opener. For most of the night, the Huskies looked done for, until Shabazz Napier and some clutch free throw shooting bailed them out in a 89-81 overtime triumph -- their toughest win of the NCAA tournament.

Wildcats' first NCAA tournament upset
Wildcats' first NCAA tournament upset Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Wildcats' first NCAA tournament upset

The Wildcats pulled off their first NCAA tournament upset in the third round, although not everyone was shocked. Still, Kentucky made a statement by ending the No. 1 seed Wichita State Shockers' unbeaten season with a 78-76 victory -- one where it didn't need a late three pointer at the end.

Huskies' first NCAA tournament upset
Huskies' first NCAA tournament upset Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Huskies' first NCAA tournament upset

The Huskies pulled off their first upset of the NCAA tournament in the third round, although not everyone was shocked. Still, Napier and the Huskies woke up big after a sluggish start against the second seed Villanova Wildcats, eventually cruising to a 77-65 victory.

Wildcats beat arch-rival in Sweet 16
Wildcats beat arch-rival in Sweet 16 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Wildcats beat arch-rival in Sweet 16

Kentucky went to the Sweet 16 and beat a team four seeds above it -- which happened to be defending national champion and arch-rival Louisville. After looking beaten for a good part of the night, Andrew Harrison and the Wildcats fought back until Aaron Harrison put them ahead for good in a 74-69 comeback.

Daniels powers Huskies in Sweet 16
Daniels powers Huskies in Sweet 16 Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Daniels powers Huskies in Sweet 16

The Huskies beat a team in the Sweet 16 that was four seeds above them, hours before the Wildcats did. It was DeAndre Daniels, not Napier, who led Connecticut over the Iowa State Cyclones with 27 points, helping it hold on for an 81-76 win.

Harrison takes Wildcats to Final Four
Harrison takes Wildcats to Final Four Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Harrison takes Wildcats to Final Four

The Wildcats completed their stunning run through the Midwest regional by beating a favored Big Ten team from Michigan. Thanks to Aaron Harrison's tiebreaking three with seconds left, Kentucky took down the defending national runner-up Michigan Wolverines with a 75-72 victory.

Huskies finish ride to Final Four
Huskies finish ride to Final Four Elsa/Getty Images

Huskies finish ride to Final Four

The Huskies completed their stunning run through the East regional by upsetting a Big Ten favorite from Michigan. While the Michigan State Spartans were a popular national title pick, Ryan Boatright and the Huskies steamrolled over them at the beginning and end for a 60-54 triumph.

Wildcats one step away from title
Wildcats one step away from title Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Wildcats one step away from title

The Wildcats beat a team six seeds higher than them in the Final Four, through the usual last second Aaron Harrison heroics. His three with five seconds left took the Wisconsin Badgers down by 74-73, putting Kentucky in the national title game -- where it was supposed to be all along.

Huskies one step away from title
Huskies one step away from title Chris Steppig-Pool/Getty Images

Huskies one step away from title

The Huskies beat a team six seeds above them in the Final Four, who happened to be the No. 1 team in the country. Yet the Florida Gators looked nothing like a No. 1 team, as Daniels and the Huskies beat them for a second time this season by 63-53 -- reaching a national title game no one expected them to be in at any point this year.

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