Hungry Huskies of UCONN March Right By Kentucky For Fourth National Title 60-54
AT & T Stadium
As the anticipation grew for tonight’s national title game it was a rare game that lived up to the billing. It was going to be an epic heavyweight fight.
UCONN in one corner a team not loaded with the most talent that had made it this far behind a second year coach and a band of Hungry Huskies. They shared a commitment to playing the game hard on every possession on both ends of the court.
In the other corner the youthful but amazingly talented Kentucky Wildcats coached by a carnival barker with a colored past, but a resume of coaches success. Albeit vacated for NCAA violations.
UK Coach John Calipari said of the Huskies relentless attack mode, “Every 50/50 ball they got. They just had more energy. The only thing that slowed them down is us going into a zone. And you know me well enough, I don’t usually do that. I said we got no choice or we’re going to be down 20.”
I sent a Tweet out early that UK had to make free throws to win. They did not. The Cats finished an abysmal 13 of 24. That allowed the aggressive Huskies to end possessions and UK had no answer. Cal didn’t agree with me that it cost his team the game.
“The way we started the game probably cost us the game. Somebody said, Well, why do you think you started that way? They’re all freshmen. They’re scared to death again. We tried to settle them down and we were rattled early. Then we settled down and started playing.”
As you can imagine, Kevin Ollie the Huskies coach was in a far better mood. “It feels great, four national championships and do this championship with these students, these student athletes is amazing. They have been amazing and resilient the whole year. But I keep telling you, it started 18 months ago when they kept believing and they stayed loyal to the program. It’s just a wonderful feeling to hold that trophy up and do it the right way. I think we did it the right way for 18 months and we did it the right way in this NCAA tournament.”
The Huskies Shabazz Napier summed up the win by telling the world, “This is what happens when you ban us on the court.” When pressed about what he meant the ever vocal Napier said, “We hungry. When you stop, when you prevent us from trying to go to the post season, and it wasn’t our fault, we worked since that day on. Coach Ollie told us, this is going to be a two year plan, and since that day on we believed.
Like I said, man, I just wanted to grab everybody’s attention and introduce the Hungry Huskies, because it’s been two years. It’s quite funny because I was laying down and I was thinking of something to say, because I knew we were going to win.”
He went on to pontificate that, “I’m being real humble and not trying to be cocky, when you believe something so much, you understand what may happen in certain situations. I told myself, if I was on that podium I was going to say that. I’m just so happy that I was in that position, because, man, these guys worked so hard, the coaches, the managers, our trainers, and last, but not least, the players. We worked so hard for this. We didn’t want to lose it. We worked so hard. So here we go, celebrating.” Napier had 22 points while playing 39 minutes.
Ollie took the humble route and decided to make the night about his players and not himself. “it’s a great feeling. It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable because those guys, my players, stayed with the program. I’m the first one to deflect all the attention. Those players that was up here, they should get all the attention, because if it wasn’t for them, this program wouldn’t be here. They believed in a vision before anybody seen it. They stuck with it through the down times, when we were losing. When we were winning, they stayed together and they believed it was possible. I think that’s the beautiful thing about this championship for me when I reflect on it, those guys toughness, but also their togetherness.”
It was a sad night for college basketball. While 80,000 watched in Jerry’s World in Dallas two programs with checkered pasts of following the rules played as the lowest set of seed to ever make a title game. My colleague Jon Schopp declared it, “The night the college basketball regular season died.” Sadly I agree.
UK wasn’t even ranked when the season ended. Both teams proved the regular season irrelevant. Now what could be a tumultuous offseason begins as talks of the BCS schools leaving the NCAA intensify and the NLRB ruling on athletes looms large over the greedy NCAA’s Billion dollar pie. This game had a feel. Not a good one.
There are storm clouds on the horizon. What was in my opinion one of the most wide open tournaments in my lifetime, now leads to a summer of what could become the Wild Wild West.
Will both coaches be on their respective benches next year? Will the game change with new rules or less rules? What has the game become on the court and officiating more resembling Animal House from anything or order or structure.
Sadly this game was big for everything off the court and not on it, and for that tonight was transformational. Just like you knew the game had changed when Magic and Bird lined up decades ago, this one had a feeling. Not a good feeling. The NCAA won. UCONN won. College basketball did not.