The best team does not always win the men’s NCAA tournament. The toughest team with the best player does. Shabazz Napier scored 22 points, added six rebounds, three assists and three steals to lead Connecticut to its fourth national title since 1999 with a 60-54 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats.
Napier was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player, and he earned it from the start of the tournament. Napier started from the bottom winning a title his freshman year and finishing on top winning a title as a senior. UConn never trailed in the game. “You’re looking at the hungry Huskies,” Napier stated. 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.
The Kentucky Wildcats would have flat out won this game if they made their free throws. They lost by six points and were 13-of-24 at the charity stripe. Year after year there are talks surrounding the incoming recruiting class as the best in the nation. Athleticism is evident however the fundamentals of making free throws are not. “We had our chances to win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws. Insert your flashback graphic here. In the 2008 final, Coach John Calipari’s Memphis team blew a late lead against Kansas after missing multiple free throws; they went 12-19 from the FT line. Kansas forced OT and won there. Snap back to reality, tonight the hungry Huskies were a perfect 10-for-10 at the line. It’s the first time a team has been perfect at the line in a national title game.
Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie’s first and last name initials spell out K.O. That is what he delivered throughout this tournament. Ollie was hired as an interim coach after the great Jim Calhoun, who built the program, had left because of health problems. In Ollie’s first tournament game the Huskies won in overtime 89-81 over Saint Joseph’s, finishing 6-0 in the tourney. “Somebody told me we were Cinderellas, and I was like, no, we’re UConn,” coach 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.” Kevin Ollie is the 12th coach to win a national championship at his alma mater. K.O. joins John Thompson, Nolan Richardson and Tubby Smith as the only African-American coaches to win a national title.
I could not even imagine filling out my billion-dollar bracket with the Connecticut Huskies winning the tournament. I picked them losing in the second round to Villanova. They caught the nation’s attention defeating fourth-seed Michigan State to advance to the Final Four. The national title comes only a short year after the Huskies were excluded from March Madness because of academic issues. Last year, the Huskies began their first season in the new American Athletic Conference after being offered pink slips from the Big East and not welcomed by any of the so-called power conferences. Now, Connecticut is the only school to win four national titles without a title game loss. By the way UConn is now 12-0 all time in men’s and women’s title games; the undefeated Lady Huskies can complete their pursuit of perfection and make it 13-0 tomorrow night when they take on undefeated Notre Dame.