ARLINGTON, Texas — The Connecticut Huskies defeated the Kentucky Wildcats last night, 60-54, to win the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball championship. This is UConn’s fourth national title. All four have come in the last 15 years. No Division I men’s team has won as much over that time span.
Shabazz Napier was a freshman when UConn won it all in 2011, and he was a big reason why the Huskies won in 2014. The senior point guard had 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re looking at the hungry Huskies,” Napier said during the postgame ceremony on the court.
Napier had tears in his eyes when it was his turn to cut down the net. He was the last player on top of the ladder. Then Coach Kevin Ollie climbed up for the last cut. He was all smiles.
The Huskies are the first seven seed to win the national championship. This was the third time they won a title in Texas.
“This is our state,” said senior forward Tyler Olander, who also was on the 2011 championship team.
UConn was not allowed to play in the tournament last year because of a punishment from the NCAA. They also changed coaches last season. Ollie won the title in only his second year as a coach and in his first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“How do we follow this up? Coach KO is going to be expecting so much from us next year,” said freshman forward Kentan Facey, who was wearing the net around his neck in the locker room.
Kentucky played from behind all night. The Wildcats tied it twice in the early minutes, but never led. After being so good at coming back in the tournament, they couldn’t do it this time. Guard James Young tried to spark a comeback, scoring 20 points and making 8 of 9 free throws. And his nasty dunk over two Huskies in the second half seemed to give Kentucky a spark. But the rest of the team went 5 of 14 on free throws, which really hurt.
“We got defensive stops, we got key rebounds when we needed them,” said UConn junior guard Ryan Boatright. “Defense wins championships, and we wouldn’t have beaten that team if we didn’t play defense like we did.”
The official attendance at AT&T Stadium last night was 79,238, a record for a championship game. But that was not the most ever to watch a college basketball game; they needed 207 more people to break that record (79,444), which was set at the Final Four on Saturday. The combined total of the two days (158,682) was the most for a Final Four weekend.
There were more Kentucky fans in the stands than UConn fans, but the Huskies gave their fans more reason to cheer. Former UConn stars Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton were in the locker room after the game congratulating the players.
“This is probably the most rewarding feeling I’ve ever had in life,” Olander said. “That game wasn’t easy. We grinded it out together. I think that’s what makes it so special.”
Photos: Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated, Tom Pennington/Getty Images