They did it, they actually did it. One step at a time, the Huskies have climbed back to the top of the college basketball landscape, and damn is the view great or what?
UConn beat Kentucky 60-54 tonight to claim the program's fourth National Championship and its second in the last four years. The Huskies won thanks to a heroic effort by Shabazz Napier, who finished his college career off with a 22 point, 6 rebound masterpiece, and also because of some outstanding coaching from Kevin Ollie and an all-around team effort that saw the Huskies hold back an immensely talented Kentucky team that seemed determined to steamroll the Huskies in the second half.
The game began about as well as any of us could have hoped. UConn jumped out to an early lead, flummoxing the Wildcat offense while pouring in buckets of their own. Before you knew it, the Huskies were up 30-15, and suddenly it seemed possible that the game could devolve into a blowout.
Of course, you knew a big Kentucky run was coming at some point, and sure enough, the Wildcats finished the first half on a 16-5 run, cutting the deficit to four going into halftime down 35-31.
The rest of the game it felt like the Huskies were holding on for dear life, as Kentucky switched to a zone defense that had the Huskies all out of sorts. Turnovers, ugly shot selection, unacceptable mental errors and even a stunning loss of composure on the court littered the second half, but despite several big Wildcat shots and a handful of highlight reel dunks, Kentucky was never able to pull even with the Huskies. Ultimately UConn made enough shots to keep Kentucky at bay until time finally ran out and the confetti started to fall.
Napier was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player after the game, and each of the rest of the Huskies players will go down in UConn history for their performances as well. Ryan Boatright gutted out a second half ankle injury to finish with 14 points. Niels Giffey added 10 points of his own, and DeAndre Daniels had a huge 8 point, 6 rebound performance while helping contain Kentucky's impressive stable of big men.
On the other side, James Young led the Wildcats with 20 points and 7 rebounds, and Julius Randle added 10 points and 6 rebounds. As was the case for John Calipari's 2008 Memphis squad, free throw shooting proved to be Kentucky's undoing, as the Wildcats only went 13-for-24 from the line.
But of course at the end of the day, the numbers don't tell the whole story.
This is a championship that wasn't supposed to happen. All the naysayers out there who thought UConn was finished after Jim Calhoun retired, after the Big East broke up, and after the program was banned from the postseason last year, nobody thought UConn could come back and go all the way. Ever since the start against St. Joseph's, the so called experts picked against the Huskies, and every single time the experts were proven wrong.
The Huskies outlasted that tough St. Joseph's team, then went on to upset No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State, No. 4 Michigan State and then the No. 1 overall seed Florida Gators. Remember that one? UConn even beat the Gators earlier this season, and that win was casually dismissed as a fluke.
This was no fluke.
UConn is here to stay, and anybody out there who is still doubting that needs to wake up. UConn has now won four championships in the past 15 years. The only programs who have won more NCAA Championships than UConn are UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana. UConn and Duke have both won four. Kansas? They've only won three. Michigan State? Two. Syracuse, just one.
Blue blood? New blood? Call us what you want, but no matter what, remember this. The UConn Huskies are the 2014 National Champions, and damn does it feel good.