9:10 PM ET, April 7, 2014
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Shabazz Napier, UConn too much for Kentucky, seize national title
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Coaches and players left them. Others told them to go away.
The guys who stuck around at UConn ended up with the last laugh and a pretty good prize to go with it: the national title.
Shabazz Napier turned in another all-court masterpiece Monday night to lift the Huskies to a 60-54 win over Kentucky's freshmen and bring home a championship hardly anyone saw coming.
More from ESPN.com
Two years ago, these UConn Huskies lost their coach, their conference and a postseason, but they never lost faith, Dana O'Neil writes. Story
Kevin Ollie is proof that the new breed of relatable, big brother-type coaches isn't what's next, it's what's now, Myron Medcalf writes. Story
The Year of the Freshman wasn't. It was just another season, capped by another unpredictable, bewildering tournament, Eamonn Brennan writes. Story
The bond between Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie helped UConn to another title, leaving both smiling broadly, Jean-Jacques Taylor writes. Story
• UConn fans erupt in celebration
• Hoops world reacts
• UConn stats to know
• Why UConn could repeat
• UK unlikely to slow down
• Biggest risers, fallers
• Way-Too-Early Top 25
• Too-Early Top 25 recruiting
• Tourney home
"You're looking at the hungry Huskies," Napier told the crowd and TV audience as confetti rained down. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us."
The senior guard had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and his partner in defensive lockdown, Ryan Boatright, finished with 14 points.
The victory comes only a short year after the Huskies were barred from March Madness because of grades problems. That stoked a fire no one could put out in 2014.
Napier kneeled down and put his forehead to the court for a long while after the buzzer sounded. He was wiping back tears when he cut down the net.
"I see my guys enjoying it," Napier said. "That's the most special feeling ever."
UConn (32-8) never trailed in the final. The Huskies led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats (29-11) trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left. But Aaron Harrison, who pulled out wins with clutch 3-pointers in Kentucky's previous three games, missed a 3 from the left corner that would have given the Cats the lead. Kentucky never got that close again.
One key difference in a six-point loss: Kentucky's 11 missed free throws -- a flashback of sorts for coach John Calipari, whose Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws in the 2008 final. The Wildcats went 13-for-24. UConn went 10-for-10, including Lasan Kromah's two to seal the game with 25.1 seconds left.
"We had our chances to win," Calipari said. "We're missing shots, we're missing free throws. We just didn't have enough."
Calipari said he decided not to foul at the end "because they're not missing."
In all, Calipari's one-and-doners got outdone by a more fundamentally sound, more seasoned group that came into this tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program's fourth national title since 1999. The Huskies were the lowest seed to win it all since Rollie Massimino's eighth-seeded Villanova squad in 1985.
"Somebody told me we were Cinderellas, and I was like, no, we're UConn," coach Kevin Ollie said. "This is what we do. We are born for this. We're bred to cut down nets. We're not chasing championships. Championships are chasing us."
Napier and Boatright now go down with Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor, Rip Hamilton, Ray Allen and all those other UConn greats. This adds to the school's titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
UConn Spells Title With D
Connecticut's unexpected run to the school's fourth national title relied heavily on stout defense. Here's how UConn's D fared in the last three games.
|Elite 8||Final 4||Title Game|
|Pts below avg.||21.5||16.9||21.3|
|Opp. FG pct.||39.1||38.8||39.1|
"When they say Ray, Rip, Ben, Emeka, Kemba -- they'll soon say Shabazz," said former Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, who was in the crowd along with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and a father-and-son team whose dance to the "Happy" song got huge applause when played on the big screen at AT&T Stadium.
The crowd was cheering for UConn at the end.
A year ago, the Huskies were preparing for their first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being booted from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Calhoun, who built the program, had left because of health problems. And most damaging -- the NCAA ban had triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.
Napier stuck around. So did Boatright. And Calhoun's replacement, Ollie, figured out how to make their grit, court sense and loyalty pay off.
"It's not about going to the next level, it's not about going to the pros, but playing for your university, playing for your teammates," Niels Giffey said. "And I'm so proud of all the guys on this team that stuck with this team."
The Huskies were one step ahead of Kentucky all night, holding off furious rally after furious rally.
In the middle of that, Boatright -- who shut down Harrison's twin brother, Andrew, most of the night -- twisted his left ankle while receiving an innocuous-looking pass from Napier. He called a timeout. Got the ankle worked on and came back out.
More from ESPN.com
ESPN RecruitingNation's experts look at what next year holds for the teams knocked out of the NCAA tournament. Story
"I've got a lot of heart and I wasn't coming out," Boatright said. "We put in too much work all year for me to give up on an ankle sprain."
Napier and Giffey made 3s on UConn's two possessions after the timeout, and that one-point lead was back up to five -- fairly comfortable by this tight, taut, buzzer-beating tournament's standards.
The big question in Kentucky is what will happen to all those freshmen. Julius Randle (10 points, six rebounds) is a lottery pick if he leaves for the NBA. Young and the Harrison brothers could be first-rounders. The big question is whether they'll want to leave on this note.
"I think all these kids are coming back, so I think we should be good," Calipari deadpanned, getting big laughs.
He called his group the most coachable bunch he has ever had. The Wildcats were the preseason No. 1, then a huge disappointment through much of this season. They were seeded an uninspiring eighth for the tournament and came on strong in time for a run to the final.
But they got outdone by a team on a different sort of mission -- a team led by Napier, who stuck with the program even though he knew the 2012-13 season was for nothing but fun.
But what fun 2013-14 turned out to be.
Napier was named the Final Four's most outstanding player, and he earned it on both ends of the court, keeping a hand in Aaron Harrison's face most of the night and holding him to a 3-for-7, seven-point, no-damage game.
He also could shoot it a bit -- including a 3-pointer in the first half when UConn was having trouble dissecting the Kentucky zone. The shot came from about 30 feet, right in front of the edge of the Final Four logo at center court.
They felt it back in Storrs, where they could be celebrating another title shortly. The UConn women play for the national title Tuesday.
If they win, it will be the first sweep of the titles since 2004. The last school to do it: UConn, of course.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
NCAA Mens Tournament
Around Champ Week
Deciding factor: Yes, this game will be remembered for Shabazz Napier's 22-point performance, but UConn also continued its stellar defensive run and held Kentucky to 39.1 percent shooting. The Wildcats scored their fewest points in the paint since the tournament began.
Player of the game: Napier. To go along with his 22 points, he was one of three Huskies to grab six rebounds. With the win he joins Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose and Larry Bird as the only players to score 125 points, pull down 25 rebounds and hand out 25 assists in a single NCAA tournament.
Key stat: UConn made all 10 of its free throws, marking the first time a team has been perfect at the line in a national title game. For the tournament, the Huskies finished 101-115 (87.8 percent) at the line, the best free throw percentage by a team in a single NCAA tournament (minimum: three games).
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||18-46 (.391)||22-53 (.415)|
|3P Made-Attempted||5-16 (.313)||6-19 (.316)|
|FT Made-Attempted||13-24 (.542)||10-10 (1.000)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||10 (0/0)||17 (0/0)|
|» Apr 7, 2014||@CONN 60, UK 54||Recap|
UConn wins its 4th national title since 1999. Only the Lakers have won more titles in that span among the 4 major sports and college football and basketball. The rest of the list is a group of sports heavyweights.[+]
Most Championships Since 1999 - 4 Major Sports & College Football/Basketball
Connecticut is the only school to win four national titles without a title game loss.[+]
Most National Championship Games Without a Loss
UConn has twice as many national championships as any other team since winning its first in 1999. They also have the most titles without a loss in NCAA Tournament history.[+]
Most National Championships Since 1999
UConn is the first team to beat Kentucky twice in the Final Four (also beat Kentucky in 2011 National Semifinals).
Connecticut is the first team to win the National Championship after missing the previous NCAA Tournament since ... Connecticut in 2011.[+]
Won National Championship After Missing Previous Year's Tournament - Since Field Expanded in 1985
Connecticut is the first team to beat the AP Preseason No. 1 in the national championship game to win the national title since Duke beat Arizona in 2001.
Kentucky is the sixth school to lose four National Championship games.[+]
Most Losses in National Championship
Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker are the only two players to score or assist on 45% of their team's points during a Final Four run in the last five Men's Basketball Championships.[+]
Highest Pct of Pts Responsible For
Connecticut is the only school in the shot-clock era (since 1986) to win a title game by 60 points or fewer and the Huskies have done so twice.[+]
Fewest Points in National Title Win - Shot Clock Era (Since 1986)
Connecticut has the highest win percentage in the tournament since their first title run in 1999.[+]
Highest Win Pct in NCAA Tournament Since 1999
In the 2008 title game, John Calipari's Memphis team went 12-19 from the FT line. Kansas forced OT and won there. In the 2014 title game, John Calipari's Kentucky team went 13-24 from the FT line. Connecticut won by 6.
Connecticut finished 101-115 (87.8%) on free throws, the best free throw percentage by a team in a single NCAA Tournament (min. 3 games). The previous record was 87.0% by St. John's in 1969.
Connecticut is the first team to win its first game in OT and win the title since NC State in 1983 (which actually won its first game in double OT vs Pepperdine).[+]
Won 1st Game in OT, Won National Championship Game - NCAA Tournament History
Connecticut's 33-point loss to Louisville during the regular season is the largest by an eventual national champion.[+]
Largest Loss by Eventual National Champion - NCAA Tournament History
Connecticut is first team to win the National Championship without winning its regular season or conference tournament title since Arizona in 1997.
Connecticut is the first team to make every FT attempt in a National Championship game.[+]
Highest FT pct in National Championship Game
Kentucky's freshmen combined to score 370 points in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the second-highest total for any group of first-year players.[+]
Most Points by Freshmen - Single NCAA Tournament
Connecticut is the fifth team to win four straight National Championship games.[+]
Most Consecutive Wins - National Championship Game
Kentucky's freshmen scored 50 points in the National Championship game, tied with 2003 Syracuse for the second-most all-time.[+]
Most Points by Freshmen in National Championship Game
Shabazz Napier scored more than 36 percent of Connecticut's points in the championship game.[+]
Highest Pct of Team Points - National Championship Win in Last 30 Years
Connecticut is the second team in NCAA Tournament history to win its Elite 8 game, National Semifinal game and National Championship game while holding each of those opponents below 60 points. The other was Indiana in 1981.
Connecticut is the sixth school with four National Championships.[+]
Most National Championships - Men's Division I History
Kentucky had its fewest points and attempts in the paint in a game in the 2014 Men's Basketball Championship.[+]
Kentucky in the Paint
Kevin Ollie is the 12th coach to win a National Championship at his alma mater.[+]
Coaches to Win National Championship At Alma Mater
Connecticut is the 2nd team to win the national championship by beating 5 teams seeded higher than it in the tournament. The other was Villanova in 1985.
Despite being voted preseason #1, Kentucky was unranked in the AP poll going into the tournament, and is the 9th unranked team to make the championship game since the AP poll began in the 1948-49 season. If they beat Connecticut in the title game, the Wildcats will join 1988 Kansas, 1985 Villanova, and 1950 CCNY as the only teams that won the title despite being unranked in the poll prior to the tournament.[+]
Teams Unranked in AP Poll to Play in NCAA Championship Game - Since AP Poll Began in 1948-49
Kentucky found its game towards the end of the first half against UConn, finishing on a 16-5 run.[+]
Kentucky - First Half vs Connecticut
Kentucky looks to become the 4th team (and 1st since 1988) to win the national championship despite being unranked in the final AP Poll before the NCAA Tournament. NOTE: Poll had 20 teams from 1948-49 to 1959-60 and 1968-69 to 1988-89; 10 teams from 1960-61 to 1967-68; and 25 teams from 1989-90 to present[+]
Unranked in Final AP Poll - National Champions in AP Poll History
The Wildcats had their chances...[+]
Kentucky With Ball Down 1 Possession - 2nd Half Of National Championship Game
Shabazz Napier had 15 points at the half. That's a tournament-high for Napier in the first half in the NCAA Tournament. His previous high was 12 against Iowa State in the Sweet 16.
Since the AP Poll expanded to 25 teams for the 1989-90 season, no team has won a national championship after being ranked outside the Top 15 in the final poll released before the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut was No. 18 and Kentucky was UNRANKED in the final AP Poll this season.[+]
Lowest Rank in Final AP Poll - Eventual National Champions Since 1990
ESPN Stats & Information