Connecticut’s backcourt isn’t the tallest nor the most decorated, but may have the fastest hands which allowed Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright to wreak havoc against Kentucky in last Monday’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in front of a record 79,238 fans, as the No. 7 Huskies, who forced 13 turnovers, never trailed and held on for a 60-54 victory.
Connecticut went to the free-throw line 10 times and made every one, while the Wildcats, who were seeking a ninth NCAA banner, drilled 13 of 24.
“I said 18 months ago that the last will be first,’’ said Head Coach Kevin Ollie, who went to Crenshaw High in Los Angeles, played for Connecticut and later the NBA. “I want to thank Jim Calhoun, the greatest coach who paved the way and had faith in me.’’
It was Calhoun who directed the Huskies to national titles in 1999, 2004, and 2011, before stepping down because of health issues.
It’s likely had No. 8 Kentucky (29-11) made a higher percentage from the charity stripe, another banner would hang in Lexington.
Forward Julius Randle added 10 points, pulled down six rebounds and dished out four assists for Kentucky, but he played with a slightly injured ankle.
Napier, who had three steals, is a senior who stayed around despite Connecticut being banned from last season’s tourney because of poor grades.
“You’re looking at the hungry Huskies,’’ said Napier, who dropped in a game-best 22 points with six rebounds and three assists, and was selected the Most Outstanding Player. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us.”
Napier, who had 15 points at the half, was a freshman on Connecticut’s 2011 title-winning team, and capped off a career that compares with guard Kemba Walker, who willed the Huskies to that title.
Connecticut (32-8) shot 41.5 percent from the floor (22 of 53), had 10 turnovers, and led at the intermission, 35-31.
The Wildcats (18 of 46 for 39.1 percent), who start five freshmen, came within 48-47 with 8:13 left in the second half, but guard Aaron Harrison (seven points with four rebounds), who nailed the game-winning trey against Michigan, and had the go-ahead three-pointer versus Wisconsin in Saturday’s 74-73 win in the national semifinal, missed a three-pointer with 7:24 showing.
“I’m proud of my team,’’ said Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari, who guided the Wildcats to the crown in 2012. “They had an opportunity to win the game, but missed free throws and shots. I believed at the half that we were going to win the game, but we just didn’t have enough.”
After falling behind 17-8 with 13:08 left on a reverse layup from Boatright (14 points, three steals, three assists and four rebounds), and trailing 30-15 when forward Niels Giffey canned two free throws with 5:59 left, Calipari, who prefers man-to-man defense, opted for a zone as the Wildcats ended the half with a 16-5 spurt that included a three-pointer from forward James Young (team-high 20 points and game-best seven rebounds) along with a steal and dunk from Harrison.
Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels, from Los Angeles, had 20 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s 63-53 win over Florida in the other national semifinal, but had eight points with six caroms on Monday.
Connecticut’s lead was reduced to 37-36 with 15:14 remaining on a basket from Harrison, but Giffey (10 points and five boards) hit a three-pointer and Boatright’s steal and two free throws made it a 46-39 lead with 11:39 showing.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.