Last Monday, the college basketball season came to an end as UConn Huskies beat the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 in the national title game. The month of March didn’t disappoint, as it was full of upsets, game winning shots, and action that kept viewers on the edge of their seats. Brackets were busted, top seeded teams took an early exit, and there were some memorable celebrations. At the end of it all, there could only be one team cutting down the nets at Cowboy Stadium and it was the UConn Huskies.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie took over for hall of fame coach Jim Calhoun in 2012 and although the team finished with a 20-10 record, the NCAA had deemed the program ineligible for postseason play due to poor academic performance in the past years. This year, Ollie and his team were hungry for a title, and ran through anybody that dared to stand in their way. Connecticut started the season ranked #18 in the preseason poll, and Kentucky was #1. Kentucky, a program who is known for having one of the top recruiting classes every year arguably had the most talent coming into the season, but their five freshmen starters didn’t have any postseason experience until this year. Head coach John Calipari knew what it would take to get to the championship game, as he has been to five Final Fours in his career, but two of them were vacated due to NCAA rules violations. In 2012 he led the Wildcats to a national title of their own over the Kansas Jayhawks. UConn returned three players from their title team in 2011: Point guard Shabazz Napier and forwards Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey. When a team consists of three players that have experience in the postseason, and know what it is like to win a title, that can really help out in the long run and they proved it. Both coaches have ties to the Philadelphia 76ers while Calipari was actually an assistant coach during the 1999-2000 season, a young Kevin Ollie was a guard for the team, so this was not their first run in.
Last night’s game was the first time in NCAA tournament history that a 7 seed and an 8 seed met in the title game. Don’t let the seeding fool you though, because both of these teams played like 1 seeds last night, and throughout the tournament. In fact, both Kentucky and UConn each had to knock off a number 1 seeded team on their road to the Final Four. UConn took down the number 1 overall seed of the tournament, the Florida Gators who hadn’t lost since December 2nd. The team that beat them on December 2nd was the UConn Huskies. Kentucky beat undefeated Wichita St. in what some considered the best game of the tournament. Both teams had very tough roads to get to the title game being low seeds, but they prevailed and did whatever they could to get there.
UConn star point guard Shabazz Napier led the way for the Huskies with 22 points while shooting 8-16 from the field, and it was more than enough to propel the Huskies to their fourth championship in school history. He made shot after shot, whether it was a deep three from NBA range, or a shot with a hand in his face, Napier managed to keep knocking them down. At the end of the night, Shabazz Napier’s name was being announced as the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He will go down as one of the best UConn basketball players to ever play the game, and people will mention him in the same breath as former Husky greats who won the award such as Richard Hamilton in 99, Emeka Okafor in 2004 and Kemba Walker in 2011. In Kevin Ollie’s first run in the tournament as a head coach, he managed to stay perfect and etch his name in the history books and at the end of it all, the team holding up the national championship trophy and standing together as one celebrating their win, a team that was banned from postseason play just a year ago was the UConn Huskies.