‘Hungry Huskies’ ride Shabazz Napier, free throws to NCAA title

Posted at 9:23 PM, Apr 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-08 07:11:59-04

By Steve Almasy

(CNN) — The University of Connecticut players were hungry for another championship. Their impressive defense and their ability to hit clutch shots sated that appetite Monday night.

The Huskies downed the freshmen-laden Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship.

Shabazz Napier scored a game-high 22 points to lead the Huskies while Ryan Boatright added 14 points. James Young tallied 20 points for the Wildcats.

The difference came at the free-throw line where Connecticut was 10-for-10 and Kentucky was just 13-for-24.

“We always did it together. It was won as a group,” UConn Coach Kevin Ollie said.

The Huskies never trailed in the game as Napier, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, hit key baskets any time the Wildcats got close. Kentucky drew to within one point on three occasions, the final time with 8:13 remaining in the game. But Napier, a senior who was on the 2011 UConn national championship team, drilled a three-pointer.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the hungry Huskies,” Napier said. “We worked so hard for it.”

Fans celebrating the victory uprooted a light post in front of the engineering building on the UConn campus and smashed it through a window, campus police said. They also overturned chairs and tables in the student union, they said.

Officers made 30 arrests, said college spokesman Tom Breen.

Disappointment for Wildcats

It was a disappointing end for the Wildcats, who began the season with a No. 1 ranking and fans dreaming of a highly regarded freshman class leading the team to a perfect record. They struggled through the regular season, but began to play extremely well in the NCAA tournament.

“We had our chances to win … and we hung in there. These kids never gave up,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. “We just didn’t have enough.”

The first half broke true to form for the typically slow-starting Wildcats and Kentucky trailed at intermission 35-31. That was good news considering they were down by 15 — Kentucky’s largest deficit of the tournament — with just six minutes left in the half.

But the Wildcats switched to a zone defense and UConn went three minutes between Napier baskets. The zone also kept the Wildcats out of foul trouble — they committed just three in the first 20 minutes. The Wildcats closed the half on a 16-5 run that included three Wildcats three-pointers.

Earlier, it was the tough defense of the Huskies that troubled the Wildcat guards. At one point the Wildcats, who hadn’t turned the ball over for the last 18 minutes of their semifinal win against Wisconsin, had as many turnovers (four) baskets against the frenetic Huskies.

In the second half, the Huskies again opened up a nice margin — nine points at 48-39. But the Wildcats clawed back as Young made a highlight-reel dunk and free throw to start a short-lived comeback. Kentucky missed three of four free throws down the stretch and couldn’t hit any of its jump shots.

First for the coach

The Huskies won their fourth national title, all of them achieved since 1999. It was the first championship for Ollie, who replaced longtime coach Jim Calhoun two years ago. Ollie became the second coach to win an NCAA championship in his initial tournament appearance.

The two teams have combined to win seven titles in the past 19 seasons, but neither was even in the tournament a year ago. Kentucky had a group of freshmen that never meshed as a team and went to the National Invitation Tournament, and UConn was ineligible because it didn’t meet NCAA graduation requirements.

UConn will have a chance to match its unique accomplishment of both the men’s and women’s teams winning titles in the same year. The Huskies play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Tuesday night’s women’s title game. UConn last performed the feat in 2004.

CNN’s Tina Burnside contributed to this report.

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