Connecticut wins national college basketball title
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Shabazz Napier scored 22 points to lead the University of Connecticut to its second national college basketball title in four years, beating the University of Kentucky 60-54 in the championship game Monday.
Napier is among three Connecticut seniors who were part of the Huskies’ 2011 title. That trio stayed after coach Jim Calhoun’s retirement, even when the Huskies were ineligible for the national tournament last season for not meeting the required academic standards.
They came back strong in new coach Kevin Ollie’s second season, and the Huskies went all the way to the title.
Kentucky, with five freshmen starters, never led in the championship game.
The Wildcats missed 11 of 24 free throws, while the Huskies were perfect on 10 tries.
“You’re looking at the hungry Huskies,” Napier told the crowd after the game. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us.”
Connecticut led by as many as 15 in the first half and watched the Wildcats trim the deficit to one with 8:13 left.
But Aaron Harrison, who pulled out wins with clutch 3-pointers in Kentucky’s last three games, missed a 3 from the left corner that would’ve given the Wildcats the lead. Kentucky never got that close again.
Kentucky was led by James Young, who had 20 points, seven rebounds.
“We had our chances to win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws. We just didn’t have enough.”
Connecticut came into the tournament a seventh-seeded afterthought but walked away with the program’s fourth national title since 1999. They were the highest seed to win it all since eighth-seeded Villanova in 1985.
A year ago, the Huskies were preparing for their first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being expelled from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power college conferences. Calhoun, who built the program, left because of health problems. And most damaging — the National Collegiate Athletic Association ban triggered an exodus of five key players to the NBA or other schools.
Ollie didn’t give up on the guys who stuck around. He figured out how to make their grit, court sense and loyalty pay off.
“From the beginning, coach Ollie told us that we have a chance to be on top if we worked hard,” Napier said. “He always told us that. We always knew that the words were: ‘If we work hard.’”